In all honesty – if the Arts Council had been informed that I was doing this project to both analyze data and have anecdotal evidence on the functioning of the Freedom of Information Act, they could not have behaved any better. Tuesday, December 11, 2012 at 4:08 PM – not even three working days after my initial request, and most of the data had already been provided.

There is the issue below that not all my request can be accommodated since it clashes with issues of privacy of some of the organizations that have applied but not received funding, nevertheless it is what I would call so far a great experience.

I am extremely curious to see how other bureaucratic organizations will fare in other countries.

Below is the actual email from the Arts Council.

Dear Professor Aceti,

Thank you for your request for information. This request is large and a lot of the information is not immediately available; consequently it may take some time to extract the lists that you are asking for. However we still anticipate being able to meet the deadline of 10 January 2013.

We are able to answer some of your questions immediately.

1) A national list of funded organisations for each year between 2007 and 2012.

Please find attached a spreadsheet of our Regularly funded organisations from 2001 to 2012 with the amount of funding received.

If you would like a list of projects funded through our Grants for the arts scheme you can find this here.

2) A national list of “de-funded” organisations for each year between 2007-2012.

We do not hold such a list but you can work out from the above spreadsheet those organisations who no longer receive Arts Council funding.

3) A national list of budget reductions for each organisation for the years 2007-2012.

Please find attached a spreadsheet that used to be on our website which shows the budget reductions imposed in the years 20010/11 and 2011/12.  There were no other budget reductions imposed for the period (2007-2012).  You can find more up to date information on our website here.

4) A National list of applicants for each year who have not received funding.

5) The amount of funding requested by the national list of applicants for each year (2007-2012) who have not received funding.

We will not be confirming the names, or any other information, relating to unsuccessful applicants for Arts Council funding. In withholding this information we will be relying on the following provisions of the Act.

Section 41 – Information provided in confidence

The exemption at section 41(1) provides that information is exempt information if (a) it was obtained by the public authority from a third party and (b) the disclosure of the information to the public by the public authority holding it would constitute an actionable breach of confidence.

We indicate in our application process that any information provided to us by unsuccessful applicants will be held in confidence, and this includes the fact of the application itself.

In addition, the fact that an organisation has applied to us for funding and has been unsuccessful is commercially sensitive information.  We consider that where organisations provide commercially sensitive information to us for the purposes of applications, this is done with the reasonable expectation that these details will be held in confidence.

Section 43(2) – Prejudicial to commercial interests

A public authority is entitled to withhold information under this provision where disclosure of that information would be likely to prejudice the commercial interests of any persons (including the authority holding the information).

The Arts Council considers that disclosing the names of unsuccessful applicants would be likely to prejudice the commercial interests of the organisations in question.  In addition public knowledge of these decisions could adversely affect applications made to other funding bodies or private funding sources.

Under Section 43(2) we are also required to carry out a public interest test to determine whether the public interest in disclosing commercially prejudicial information is outweighed by the public interest in withholding the information.

Public interest factors in favour of disclosure

  • It is acknowledged that disclosing the information requested would enhance transparency and accountability of the decision making process at the Arts Council.
  • As a publicly funded organisation, the public has a legitimate interest in the Arts Council’s activities.

Public interest factors against disclosure

  • Disclosure of the information requested would be likely to disproportionately prejudice the commercial interests of the organisations in question, as well as the Arts Council’s own commercial interests.
  • It is not in the public interest for the commercial viability of organisations to be jeopardised unnecessarily.
  • It is not in the public interest for organisations to be deterred from applying for funding, or engaging with us, because they have concerns relating to the protection of their confidential and commercially sensitive information.

On balance the Arts Council is of the view that the public interest in withholding information relating to unsuccessful applicants outweighs the public interest in disclose.

There are 3 remaining questions which will be dealt with by 10 January 2013:

5) The total funding amount for each year (2007-2012) by sector.

6) The Amounts awarded for 2012 Olympic projects.

7) A list of funds requested from the organisations and the amounts of funding actually allocated for each year (2007-2012)

Please do not hesitate to contact me should any of the above be unclear.

If you are not satisfied that the Arts Council has complied with the Freedom of Information Act in responding to your request you have the right to an internal review.  Please contact me at the address above, explaining what you would like us to review under the Act.  Alternatively you can detail your concerns in writing and send them to the Chief Executive, Arts Council England, 14 Great Peter Street, London, SW1P 3NQ.

If you are not content with the outcome of the internal review, you have the right to apply directly to the Information Commissioner for a decision.  The Information Commissioner can be contacted at Information Commissioner’s Office, Wycliffe House, Water Lane, Wilmslow, Cheshire, SK9 5AF.

Kind regards,

Senior Officer, Freedom of Information
Arts Council England, National Office