The Freedom of Information Act 2014 is a key pillar supporting the openness, transparency and accountability of the public sector. However, as the Deputy has noted, the move towards a more user-friendly system and the abolition of fees have seen a significant increase in the number of requests. There has been a 67% increase between 2014, the last year of operation for the operation for the previous legislation, and 2017. It is expected that the Information Commissioner's next annual report will show that the number of requests in 2018 exceeded the 33,979 received by civil and public sector organisations in 2017 as part of a consistent upward trend. This continuing increase in demand may be seen both as a measure of the legislation's success and a significant challenge for public bodies.
Against this backdrop, the Central Policy Unit for Freedom of Information at my Department has continued to work closely with stakeholders throughout the civil and public service with a view towards improving FOI practice. Our aim is to ensure that requesters' objectives are met by the most efficient possible means, while building capacity both in terms of technical knowledge, but also an appreciation of the broader significance of this legislation for the business of their organisations. In addition, the Central Policy Unit liaises closely with the Office of the Information Commissioner as well as members of the public, providing guidance and advice on making the most of the FOI system through its help-desk service.
The Central Policy Unit is currently at an advanced stage of the tender process for a revised FOI training framework. Over 9,000 participants have received training under the previous framework. This new initiative aims to build on that success in the initial implementation of the 2014 Act, providing public servants with the practical skills and expert technical knowledge necessary to ensure more effective and efficient operation of the FOI system into the future.