Rowen questions Cabinet Secretary over data

July 26, 2008 12:00 AM

Paul Rowen MP - Putting Rochdale FIRST!Rochdale MP Paul Rowen is demanding an explanation from the Cabinet Office after it emerged that an extra 10 per cent funding for the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) would do nothing to tackle government data losses. Mr Rowen was speaking after it was revealed that 2,500 Rochdale resident's details were stolen from a dentist in Littlenorough.

A Public Administration Select Committee (PASC) meeting last week questioned Cabinet Office minister Sir Gus O'Donnell about the "aftermath of government data losses".

During a barrage of questions on responsibilities for data handling and security within government, O'Donnell said the ICO would be given an extra 10 per cent in funding this year.

The answer came in response to Paul Rowen, Liberal Democrat MP for Rochdale, who asked: "An important part of this is resources for the ICO. Are you going to make available resources for him to carry out his duties?"

Mr O'Donnell replied: "There is a 10 per cent increase in his [the information commissioner's] budget this year."

But the increase,  representing an extra £500,000 funding from the Ministry of Justice,  can only be used to administer the Freedom of Information Act,  an entirely separate responsibility of the ICO. Under the rules governing the running of the ICO, this money cannot be used to police the Data Protection Act (DPA).

Mr Rowen said: "I will write to the Cabinet Office to find out more on this unexpected development. Freedom of information and data protection are separate tasks within the ICO."

The ICO administers freedom of information laws which improve public access to government-held information.

A separate responsibility to police the DPA and protect information held by public and private sector bodies is funded by about £10m in notification fees from data controllers who pay £35 each.

A spokesman for the ICO said: "The two functions are entirely separate, and funds cannot be transferred between the two. We will be in touch with the committee to clarify this."

A Cabinet Office spokesman said: "The answer given to the committee was completely accurate  the portion of the ICO's budget provided directly by the government has been increased by 10 per cent for next year."

Last week's PASC meeting was set up to "explore the issues raised by the data losses for how government conducts its business, as well as the government's proposals for improving how information is used and kept secure".

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The Letter

Sir Gus O'Donnell KCB

Secretary of the Cabinet and Head of the Home Civil Service

70 Whitehall

London SW1A 2AS

22 July 2008

Evidence: Public Administration Committee - Data Handling Procedures in Government

I write following evidence that you gave before the Public Administration Select Committee last week on Data Handling Procedures in Government. During the course of questions I asked you the following: "An important part of this is the resources for the Information Commissioner. Are you going to make available additional resources for him to carry out his duties?"

To which you replied: "There is a 10% increase in his budget this year. At a time when public spending is being tightly controlled and where HMRC, DWP, Cabinet Office, Treasury - to name but four - have minus-five real every year, he is getting a 10% increase in his resources."

This question was prompted by the following statement made by the Information Commissioner when giving evidence before the Justice Select Committee and recently published in their report "Protection of Private Data":

"I would say, I remain dissatisfied, because we cannot do these inspections without adequate resources. We cannot even do spot checks of Government departments on a de facto basis without the resources to do it. We have to provide the entire data protection activities of my office on a budget of £10 million a year."

It has since been suggested to me that the additional resource allocation for the Information Commissioner is to deal with FOI requests and NOT inspections and data security checks.

In view of the importance of this issue I would be grateful if you could clarify what this additional resource will be used for and if not for spot checks make additional resources available to the Information Commissioner.

I look forward to your reply.

Best wishes,

Paul Rowen

MP for Rochdale