Steve Newman, from ONR’s Secretariat and Parliamentary Business Team, has been providing advice about answering requests for information since the Freedom of Information Act was first introduced in 2005. Here Steve explains how ONR handles requests for information from the public.
ONR has a declared aim to be open and transparent about our work. Our website is full of information about ONR’s regulatory work, including specific regulatory reports, general information about the industry, regular news items and bulletins and information about ONR Board business.
We regularly look to identify opportunities to publish more information and we are always happy to receive requests for information which is not already published. We will aim to deal with such requests as quickly and efficiently as we can. However, disclosure of information in response to such enquiries may be subject to legislation, such as the Data Protection Act (DPA), the Freedom of Information Act (FOI) and the Environmental Information Regulations (EIR).
The majority of these type of requests fall under the umbrella term ‘FOI’, but in effect most requests are answered under EIR. All of these disclosures are considered to be a general release, because anyone, anywhere in the world, making the same request, would get the same response.
My team and I regularly receive requests for information and they can be complex. In 2012, we handled 77 FOI requests and 504 general enquiries. We have a small team who identify which part of ONR should answer them and we offer help, support, guidance and training to ensure requests are answered on time wherever possible.
Due to the nature of our business, and because we rely on specialists to provide a robust response, it can sometimes take time to answer requests. If it looks like a deadline isn’t going to be met, we will keep the requester updated on the situation.
Whilst we try to be as open and transparent as possible, there will be times when information might be withheld. The most common reasons are:
- Personal information – where release would contravene the Data Protection Act;
- National security – where release would be useful to someone who wanted to commit a malicious act;
- Commercial sensitivity – where release would harm the commercial interests of an individual or body;
- Manifestly unreasonable – where the request places a substantial and unreasonable burden on the resources of ONR or an unreasonable diversion of resources from the provision of the public services for which ONR is mandated.
Other reasons include: confidentiality; international relations; the right to a fair trial; information still in the course of completion and volunteered information.
In all EIR cases, apart from for personal information, a test is undertaken to decide whether the public interest favours disclosing or withholding the information, and in all cases, requesters have the right to ask for a review of ONR’s decision if they are unhappy with it.
Factors we consider as being in favour of disclosing include: openness and transparency; demonstrating that procedures are being followed; contribution to public knowledge and debate and to public understanding of health and safety issues; and enhancing the ability of the public to participate more meaningfully in debates about nuclear issues.
ONR will always try to disclose as much information as possible, but when we have to withhold something, we will provide a clear explanation why.
Visit our website for the latest information about ONR’s work.
If you can’t find the information you’re looking for and would like to submit a request for information please email ONRenquiries@hse.gsi.gov.uk
This article was published in Quarterly News (October to December 2012).