That looks very dramatic, doesn’t it? But I assure you that we have very amicable relations with the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) and have never had to think about, let alone resort to, violence!
However the relationship is complicated because although we occupy some of the same space – we both deal with information in various ways – we are usually doing different things in that space. Take regulation: ICO regulates our handling of personal data and our performance under FOI, but we regulate their performance under the Re-use of Public Sector Information Regulations. It is not beyond the bounds of possibility that we might find ourselves simultaneously dealing with a complaint against each other – but fortunately that has not yet happened.
We need to work closely together on records management, particularly with regard to government departments and other bodies falling under the Public Records Act (PRA) which include, incidentally, ICO. Under the PRA, the Keeper of Public Records (our Chief Executive) guides, co-ordinates and supervises records managment in these bodies. However, there is also a code of practice on records management under section 46 of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and ICO promotes and monitors government departments’ performance against it. So, we monitor their records management under PRA and they monitor our records management under FOIA and we both monitor records management in government departments. Now the last thing a busy government department needs is conflicting advice and expectations and a succession of visits to assess their performance, so we try to work together to ensure we follow a consistent line and we timetable our assessment visits carefully.
We also need to talk to each other when a complaint received by one of us seems to fall partly within the remit of the other. In theory access and re-use are completely distinct but in practice the boundaries can be a bit fuzzy. So, we need to liaise when this happens. We also need to ensure our respective guidance on access and re-use is coherent and avoids confusing public authorities and members of the public. And we can offer specialist expertise when issues arise involving archives, which ties in well with our sector leadership role (on which colleagues have already blogged).
With all this going on we need more than ad hoc liaison so we have a formal agreement on how we will work together. We recently revised it and our new Memorandum of Understanding was signed a couple of weeks ago by Oliver Morley, our Chief Executive and Keeper, and Christopher Graham, the Information Commissioner. The new Memorandum of Understanding is published on our website today.