Manchester's finest drowning in paperwork as Freedom of Information requests pile up

Enforcement notice issued months after data regulator schooled police force

Updated Greater Manchester Police (GMP) must clear the backlog of hundreds of Freedom of Information (FOI) Act requests – some years old – or find itself in contempt of court.

So says Britain's data watchdog, the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO), which is today issuing an enforcement notice against the force based in North West England, the third largest in the country with more than 8,000 officers.

The cop shop has 850 FOI requests to process, including 580 made more than 12 months ago, with the oldest submitted over two-and-a-half years ago.

Under the FOI Act, public authorities are allowed to take up to 20 working days to file a response to a request, according to the ICO's regulations.

The latest admonition comes after the data regulator issued a practice recommendation to GMP in February after routine monitoring revealed the Manchester cop shop to be the most complained about force over the prior twelve months.

"In issuing this enforcement notice today, we are demanding urgent action from Greater Manchester Police in responding to Freedom of Information requests," said Phillip Angel, head of FOI casework at the ICO.

He said GMP had "done little" to help overcome the response backlog and the force needs to improve response times to FOI requests, as well as clear the backlog.

"While we recognise that an action plan has been put in place and some progress has been made to improve its timelines since the issuing of the Practice Recommendations, we are not seeing the improvement both we and the public need to see at the pace we need to see it," Angel added.

Late responses to FOIs are not the way the police maintains "trust and understanding" with the public, he said. "Transparency is key, and compliance of Freedom of Information requests is a vital part of that."


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We asked Greater Manchester Police to comment.

And so ends a busy year of interactions between British police and the ICO. In August, an FOI blunder in Northern Ireland exposed a spreadsheet containing details of every serving officer in the country, Cumbria Police also unwittingly disclosed officers' personal information, then Norfolk and Suffolk constabularies made an error when posting raw crime data as part of an FOI request.

Just last week, the ICO fined the Ministry of Defense for a BCC mistake that endangered the lives of Afghan interpreters looking to escape the clutches of the Taliban when US and British troops pulled out of the country. ®

Updated at 11.01 UTC on December 20, 2023, to add:

In a statement sent to The Register, Ian Cosh, Senior Information Risk Owner (SIRO) at Greater Manchester Police, said: "have an action plan in place, which is already in motion, enabling us to respond timely to incoming requests, while managing an unprecedented volume of requests in recent years."

He said it has "introduced a robust action plan" that involves new practices and processes" and "reprioritising existing force resources into the team, as well as recruiting new staff".

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