PSI – public sector information – is the single largest source of information in Europe, and includes digital maps, meteorological, legal, traffic, financial, economic and other data. No wonder it’s valuable to governments looking to balance the books post recession.
E RADAR investigates this most interesting product which is turning public sector bodies into commercial opportunists and the PSI and public sector records regimes that underpin it.
Most of this raw data could be re-used or integrated into new products and services, which we use on a daily basis, such as car navigation systems, weather forecasts, financial and insurance services. Citizens also have the right to access certain public sector information under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 as part of open and transparent government.
Personal data held by public bodies is governed by Data Protection legislation. Public bodies and organisations that hold PSI on behalf of public bodies need to ensure that public sector information is managed in accordance with all relevant legislation.
More details about the UK’s public sector information strategy can be found in the UK Government’s ICT Strategy.
General approach to PSI
Senior managers have a responsibility to ensure that knowledge and information contribute to organisational success, manage risk, and to provide effective leadership. They must therefore develop and implement appropriate policies, procedures, standards, training and tools.
And individual staff also have a responsibility as the creators, custodians, and users of knowledge and information…
- Like IT and communications, knowledge and information management is now a recognised government function;
- The role of audit committees is strengthened to address information and systems risk;
- Information management is an important responsibility of accounting officers;
- Staff handling protected personal data are required to attend formal training programmes;
- Professional standards on information and data governance underpin accountability;
- Leadership drives the guardianship of public sector information;
- The organisation’s culture should value information as a business asset.
Archiving Public Records
Selection of public records takes place in two stages. The first, when the records have passed out of active use, usually takes place 5 years after a record has been created. At this point, records which are obviously worthless are destroyed, and those which have been identified as valuable for future administrative need, or future research are kept for further review at a later date. This process, known as second review takes place when the record is 15 to 25 years old. The lapse of time gives perspective to the judgment of which of these records are worthy of permanent preservation.
The Public Records Act 1958 also provides for the deposit of records in places other than The National Archives, at the discretion of the Secretary of State for Justice / Lord Chancellor (see Ministry of Justice). Examples of these records include records of certain courts, and semi-independent local bodies which are of local interest, films and sound recordings, and certain records of the national museums and galleries.
Scotland and Northern Ireland
Separate national record offices exist for Scotland and Northern Ireland. The National Archives of Scotland (formerly the Scottish Record Office) holds records of departments which are wholly or mainly concerned with Scottish affairs, the Scottish courts and of private individuals and organisations. The Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI) was established in 1923 as the archive for the province, and contains records of the Northern Ireland courts and departments, local government records, and some private and business records.
There is provision in the Government of Wales Act 1998 to enable the Assembly to set up a Public Record Office for Wales. Until this has been established, The National Archives will continue to carry out its statutory functions in regard to Welsh public records in accordance with the Public Records Act 1958. A Memorandum of Understanding has been produced in order to formalise this arrangement.
Access to public records
Until January 2005, access to public records was governed by the Public Records Act 1958, and the Public Records Act 1967. The Freedom of Information Act 2000 came fully into force in January 2005 and replaced those parts of the Public Records Act which related to access to records. The Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 applies to the access of public records held by public bodies in Scotland.
When are records made available to the public?
Since the Freedom of Information Act 2000 came fully into force, members of the public can ask to see information held by public authorities as soon as it has been created. The Act gives people two new rights of access; the right to be told whether the information is held by the public authority; and the right to be provided with the information. These new access rights may only be overridden by exemptions in the Act.
The Freedom of Information Act 2000 access regime replaces that of the Public Records Act 1958, as amended, which was commonly referred to as the 30 year rule. Under this Act, records were opened on 1st January, 30 years after the date of the last paper or entry in a record, plus one extra year, to ensure that all papers on the file were at least 30 years old. Thus records bearing a last date of 1973 were released into the public domain on 1 January 2004. This process was known as the New Year’s Openings.
Some records used to be closed for periods longer than 30 years. There were various reasons for this extended closure. Some records contain distressing personal information about people and events. Others include information whose release could damage national security or international relations, or the information may have been supplied subject to certain confidential undertakings. The release of other types of information may be barred under legislation. Records that were closed for extended periods for reasons like this before the Freedom of Information Act 2000 came into force in January 2005, remain closed only where an exemption in the Freedom of Information Act 2000 applies.
Are records only held by The National Archives available?
The Freedom of Information Act 2000 has not directly altered the way in which records are selected for permanent preservation or for alternative disposal. Most records are still transferred to The National Archives or other Places of Deposit after the second review process, that is, after they are 15-25 years old. Most of the records transferred after January 2005 are open; those which are closed have only been closed under an exemption in the Freedom of Information Act 2000 .
Under the Freedom of Information Act 2000, the public have a right of access to information in public records before they are transferred. Members of the public should simply ask the public authority which currently holds the information for access to it.
Some records are ‘retained’ by government departments. Retention means that a department requests the right to keep back from transfer a record that is over 30 years old. The approval to retain is given by the Secretary of State for Justice / Lord Chancellor, and normally lasts for five years, after which time a new request must be made. It is usually granted on the basis of a continuing administrative need by the department, e.g. . maps and plans of mine workings which are still with the Coal Authority.
Who agrees what should be retained?
The Secretary of State for Justice / Lord Chancellor has to approve all applications to retain a record after the usual thirty year period defined in the Public Records Act 1958. Departmental record officers make such requests, which are assessed in the first instance by The National Archives. The requests are then considered by the Advisory Council on National Records and Archives, which is chaired by the Master of the Rolls, and composed of MPs, academics, researchers and archivists. The Advisory Council scrutinises the applications, and those with which it agrees are passed to the Lord Chancellor for final approval.
How can I find out if I can see a record?
Details of the closure status of individual records is usually given in the class list and finding aids for that particular record in The Catalogue. If you want to see information in a closed record, you can submit a request under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 asking for the record to be reviewed. The National Archives will re-examine the record in the light of FOI, and if no exemptions apply, the record will be opened.
How can I find out more information?
Details of the closure status of individual records is usually given in the class list and finding aids for that particular record. Contact The National Archives for advice on how to contact departmental record officers of government departments, or of how to apply for undertakings to see certain record classes.
Re-use of Public Sector Information
Freedom of Information Act 2000
Freedom of Information is government by the Freedom of Information Act 2000 which gives the public a general right of access to information held by public authorities. The Act also requires public authorities to have an approved publication scheme, which is a means of providing access to information which an authority proactively publishes
When responding to requests, there are procedural requirements set out in the Act which an authority must follow. There are also valid reasons for withholding information, which are known as exemptions from the right to know.
- Please refer to The Environmental Information Regulations 2004
The Ministry of Justice has overall responsibility for the management of public records.
Legislation and regulation
- Public Records Act 1958 (and the Public Records Act 1967). Under the Act, certain public records had to exist for 50 years before being made public. This period was reduced to 30 years under the The Public Records Act 1967.
- Official Secrets Act 1989 Provides exemptions to the release of public sector information
- Government of Wales Act 1998. The Act sets up a new category of public records which are known as Welsh public records. Welsh public records include the records of the National Assembly for Wales and a number of Assembly-sponsored bodies.
- Freedom of Information Act 2000 Public sector information carries special status as part of the nation’s records. Access to government records is governed primarily by the Freedom of Information Act 2000, but other legislation also apply.
- The Public Records Act 1958 (Admissibility of Electronic Copies of Public Records) Order 2001. The Regulations amend the Public Records Act 1958 to allow electronic copies or extracts from a public record to be admissible in evidence.
- Constitutional Reform & Governance Act 2010. The Act protect records relating to the Royal Family
This list of public sector-related legislation and regulation is not exhaustive, and eradar.eu™ would like further help in identifying regulations which is specific to a public body.