Government fails to meet Freedom of Information Act deadline on National Citizen Service data

Cabinet Office blames 'administrative error' for failing to respond in the specified time to a request from Third Sector

Cabinet Office
Cabinet Office

The Cabinet Office has failed to meet the statutory time limit for responding to a request made under the Freedom of Information Act for details about the National Citizen Service pilot projects.

Third Sector made the request on 23 August for details about the social and ethnic backgrounds of the young people in this summer’s programmes and the numbers completing the scheme or dropping out.

Under the terms of the act, the Cabinet Office should have responded within 20 working days, which expired on 20 September. Third Sector has referred the case to the Information Commissioner’s Office.

The Cabinet Office said in June that it would improve the time it took to respond to freedom of information requests after the ICO had received other complaints about delays.

In a statement, the Cabinet Office said: "We aim to address all freedom of information requests as promptly as possible and we are currently working closely with the Information Commissioner’s Office to ensure we reach the required standards.

"The Cabinet Office takes all freedom of information requests extremely seriously. In this instance, there was a delay that was caused by an administrative error."

The statement said the figures requested were not yet available because an independent evaluation was of the NCS was still taking place.

Asked to comment on the situation, Roberta Blackman-Woods, the shadow minister for civil society, said: "We constantly ask questions about the National Citizen Service, not to criticise but simply to get more information about who is benefiting from the scheme and its cost-effectiveness, particularly at a time of extensive cuts to public services for young people.

"If the government wishes to be open and transparent, it really needs to provide information before the freedom of information request stage – and, when a request is submitted, the information needs to be made available within the legal timeframe."

In June, the Education Select Committee of MPs called on the government to abandon the six-week NCS scheme, saying that the programme would be expensive and hard to justify in times of spending cuts.

Last month, Nick Hurd, the Minister for Civil Society, told parliament that almost a quarter of the 11,000 spaces on this year’s programme had not been filled.

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