Cats and catering top public demands

January 14, 2005

After five years of nervous anticipation and an apparent last-minute rush of document shredding, the long-awaited enforcement of the Freedom of Information Act this month seems to have had a less than dramatic impact on universities, writes Phil Baty.

Most notable among a handful of reported demands from members of the public under the 2000 Act has been a round-robin request to veterinary schools for information regarding "vets and dog food and urinary blockage in male cats", from a veteran pet nutrition campaigner.

According to the universities' FoI email discussion forum, Portsmouth University received a single request - for details of degree results in physics in 1990, which it would have provided before the Act was in place.

And the University of Wales said that it received a request for a report that it was unable to provide because it was published by another body.

The biggest headache, so far, for Wales, however, appears to be the Welsh Language Act, which means their fledgling and non-Welsh speaking FoI officer has to provide responses, if requested, in two languages.

Greenwich University received one of the few challenging requests so far. A trade union representative asked for "chapter and verse on contracted-out services such as catering and security".

Liverpool John Moores University must be hoping it does not receive any similar queries. The Act requires institutions to respond to requests within 20 days. But the university's key FoI contact is on leave until January 17 - 17 days into the Act.

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