DTI Internal Review

I've finally had a response from the DTI on the internal review I requested into their decision not to honour the follow-up FOI request I made in July. In short, the Chief Operating Officer at the DTI has decided that the department were justified in declining to answer the questions set out in that request. Can't say I'm surprised.

If I wanted to pursue the matter the next course of action would be to appeal to the Information Commissioner's Office. I'm not satisfied with the DTI's answer, which (apart from being poorly written) consists of little more than platitudes and half-arsed excuses, but for now I'm going to give them the benefit of the doubt and sit back and wait to see the fruits of their labour.

Here's the full text of the response I received by email, retyped by my own fair hand since the PDF attachment it was contained in consisted of a scanned letter. Good job I'm not blind.

Dear Mr Champion,

Thank you for your email of 26 July 2006 requesting an internal review of the Department's decision to decline your request of 25 June made under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). In line with Departmental policy this matter was passed to me for consideration as Director-General with responsibility for the website policy area.

I have now had the opportunity of reviewing this matter. After giving full consideration to your request and the information provided by the E-Communications team I am content that the s12 and s5(1) justification for declining was valid in this instance. Having reached that conclusion, I set out later in this letter the steps we will take that may help with your enquiry.

The nine requests totalled 51 separate questions, 27 questions were asked in the first tranche of requests (which we answered in full) and 24 were asked in the second tranche of requests. In calculating the cost of answering these questions the following elements were taken into consideration:

  • undertaking a number of searches to determine, locate, retrieve and extract any relevant infromation from a variety of document that spanned a four year period. This included email correspondence, project plans, project governance documentation, project meeting notes, invitation to Tender documents, tender board papers, proposals, contracts, customer briefs, service request documentation, invoices and user acceptance testing strategies and scripts.

The volume of questions, combined with the breadth of information held, would have taken us over the £600 threshold.

Having considered your request for review, I have also considered the other action we can take. We are preparing statements that we can publish on the website explaining the current position on accessibility and the background to the procurement. That may help you to refine your request to bring it below the financial threshold. The statement will explain that we are carrying out an audit and we would aim to be in a position subsequently to explain the action we are taking on accessibility.

I recognise that the position on accessibility of the site is unsatisfactory - it is unfortunate that this was the outcome of the procurement. There was undoubtedly a failure to ensure that it was compliant with the accessibility guidelines. The development of the site was a long and complicated process that took place over several years and involved numbers of different people in DTI and its suppliers. We certainly aim to learn lessons from it but a detailed investigation of it would be time-consuming and probably would not provide complete answers to the questions you have raised. Our focus at present is on the action required to bring the site to an appropriate standard of accessibility.

Hilary Douglas, Chief Operating Officer

The DTI site's accessibility page (external link) does now have a notice which includes this passage:

An accessibility audit is being carried out by a specialist independent agency. The audit will identify where the site fails to comply with relevant accessibility standards. The recommendations will be used to draft an implementation plan.

If there's anyone willing to submit an FOI enquiry asking which specialist independent agency they've employed I'd be very interested to hear the answer.

Comments

Perhaps the DRC would be interested in following this up, given that this isse has become fairly high profile (insofar as government websites ever do). Particularly given the implending DDA Duty of Equality in a couple of months.

Posted by: Doug at September 21, 2006 12:41 PM

Doug, as far as I know the DRC will only act in response to a complaint from someone who has been materially effected by an inaccessible site. They won't initiate action against an organisation themselves, only represent the interests of the complainant.

Posted by: Dan at September 22, 2006 8:54 PM

I got a letter from my M.P. last week, too

http://www.brucelawson.co.uk/index.php/2006/dti-blind-user/

Shifty buggers, Civil Servants.

Posted by: bruce at September 27, 2006 4:47 PM

DDC wrote:
"If there's anyone willing to submit an FOI enquiry asking which specialist independent agency they've employed I'd be very interested to hear the answer."

It's NOMENSA apparently. I was told that there was a tender sent out but for some reason Shaw Trust didn't get to see it. I'm glad that a reputable company like Nomensa is on the job, but I'm disturbed by the fact that despite that fact that we're doing a rapidly increasing amount of audits with excellent customer feedback that we didn't get invited to the table. I'm currently trying to find out why.

Posted by: Grant Broome at September 29, 2006 12:00 PM

Thanks Grant, that's good news (that it's Nomensa) but a pity that the Shaw Trust weren't considered.

Posted by: Dan at September 29, 2006 12:10 PM

"The volume of questions, combined with the breadth of information held, would have taken us over the 600 threshold."

Unyet they couldn't even get a half decent testing and review of their own site done for 175,000...

I continue to be ashamed of my government.

Posted by: Matt at October 2, 2006 9:11 PM

Actually, I thought some more about what I wrote last night, and found this this afternoon (http://www.nao.org.uk/about/faqs.htm#misusepublic):
Q. I am a member of the public and have concerns about the misuse of public monies, who do I contact?

A. Concerns regarding central government spending may come under our remit. Complaints should be addressed in writing to the Comptroller and Auditor General who will deal with the matter as appropriate:

Sir John Bourn
Comptroller and Auditor General
Private Office
National Audit Office
157-197 Buckingham Palace Road
London
SW1W 9SP

Email Sir John Bourn through our enquiries desk (enquiries@nao.gsi.gov.uk), please mark your email for his attention

Is this an avenue you’ve explored at all? Could be right up your street!

Posted by: Charlie Oates at October 10, 2006 8:34 PM

Worth a shot?

http://petitions.pm.gov.uk/govaccessibility/

Posted by: Ian Fenn at November 21, 2006 5:56 PM

Certainly is Ian, nice work. I'll try to drum up some support and see how far we can take it.

Posted by: Dan at November 21, 2006 7:23 PM

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