Friday, 29 November 2013

Department for Regional Development NI - Dear Minister

Model Publication Scheme

All public authorities are obliged under Section 19 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 to adopt and maintain a publication scheme.  The idea of a publication scheme is to let everyone know what information will be automatically, or routinely, published by our Department.

To comply with the Act, this Publication Scheme sets out:
  • what information we will make available, classified by type of information; and
  • how you can access the information.

The table below sets out the what information is available through our publication scheme together with links where you will be able to get more information on how to access it.  Most of the information provided in our publication scheme will be freely available for downloading from the Website.  Other information, not available electronically, will be sent, or otherwise made available, by writing to us.

[Which is the big cheese?]

The failures and deficiencies I'm about to outline won't just apply to the Department for Regional Development but that's the department I'm most familiar with.

As I noted in September 2012, Stormont ministers are supposedly following HM Treasury best governance practice ie the Minister should be chairing Departmental Board meetings:
The present arrangement is a much looser one; the DRD Corporate Governance Framework illustrates the separation between the Minister and the independent/non-executive Board members. The Minister and his special adviser join senior civil servants for a Weekly Stocktake and the special adviser participates in the Weekly Business Review but both are absent from the monthly meetings of the Departmental Board.
According to the table mentioned above, minutes of senior-level meetings and reports and papers provided for consideration at senior-level meetings are published on the DRDNI website with a link to "Management & Policy Information - Board meetings"

1. The most recent monthly Board minutes were for 25 June 2013 and they were published following the Board meeting at the end of August.

2. The most recent Weekly Business Review was for 19 August 2013 and, instead of minutes, there's a list of virtually information free 'action points'.

3. There's no link to any reports which may have been considered at these senior-level meetings.

Why isn't the Department abiding by the terms of its publication scheme? Whatever happened to open and accountable government? Reports, of course, should be user-friendly.