Request for information - Ref No: FOI21989
Thank you for your email of 8 March 2021, requesting information from Ordnance Survey in accordance with the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) 2000, as set out in the extract below:
“I would like to have access to the full file of changes to Local Election Boundaries before polling day. These are essential to the correct working of local democracy. They drive the emailing system and contact systems so we, candidates, can communicate efficiently with potential supporters and voters. This is even more important when so much campaigning must be done online due to social distancing and lockdown rules. The Local Government Boundary Commission for England have prepared them and the Ordnance Survey has them but is not prepared to release them until the date of your next release which is in May AFTER the local elections. This interferes with the proper exercise of the franchise. Please make arrangements to release this information on an urgent basis so that we can all communicate with electors in the correct boundary divisions.”
I confirm that Ordnance Survey does hold some of the information you have requested; however, we consider the information to be exempt from disclosure under sections 12(1), 21 and 22 of the FOIA, as explained further below.
Section 12(1) (Cost of compliance exceeds limit)
Ordnance Survey estimates that the cost of complying with the request would exceed the appropriate limit, which is set at £450 (18 hours).
By way of background, as part of the process of recording boundary changes, which are scheduled for release in May and October, we are constantly receiving changes and amendments in a variety of formats and differing scales from the Local Government Boundary Commission for England (LGBCE), the equivalent Boundary Commissions for Scotland and Wales, and Local Authorities, up until the cut-off point in our production cycle. The updated boundaries will be available in the May 2021 release of Ordnance Survey’s Boundary-Line product, which will contain all boundaries that are Operative as of 6 May 2021. Please note that Boundary-Line is available for free, under the Open Government Licence. See this webpage for further details: https://www.ordnancesurvey.co.uk/business-government/products/boundaryline.
The current production platform does not support the addition of pre-operative boundaries and it would take a significant amount of time and resource to create, extract and compile a pre-operative dataset. This would be a significant undertaking, exceeding 18 hours, and is therefore not feasible at this current time due to the costs involved, the current editing platform limitations, and the fact that all our internal resourcing is being focused on meeting the current scheduled publication release dates.
Please also note that at the time this request was made, the cut-off point had not been reached and it is likely that we therefore would not have received all the recorded changes so as to enable us to compile a ‘full file of changes’ as requested; as such, it could not be guaranteed that if a data set were to be provided it would be a true representation of the actual May operative boundaries.
Section 12(1) is an absolute exemption and therefore not subject to the public interest test.
Section 21 (Information accessible by other means)
We also consider the information to be exempt under section 21 of the FOIA, as it is reasonably accessible by other means. The data on which revised boundaries are based is created by Local Authorities and the relevant Boundary Commissions.
Under the duty to provide information and assistance in accordance with section 16 of the FOIA, we can provide the following information which may assist you.
New boundary information for England is readily available to download as shapefiles via the LGBCE website at the following link: Frontpage | LGBCE Site . You may wish to view the FAQ’s page, more specifically the question titled ‘Can I see the boundaries proposed in your mapping more clearly’.
You may also wish to view the applicable statutory instruments, which can be found on the following government website Legislation.gov.uk
Section 21 is an absolute exemption and therefore not subject to the public interest test.
Section 22 (Information intended for future publication)
Lastly, as the operative boundaries are scheduled to be released in May 2021, we also consider the exemption at section 22 of the FOIA to be engaged. We consider that it is reasonable in all the circumstances for the information to be held until the scheduled date for publication, for the reasons already set out above, under Section 12(1).
In order to invoke section 22, we are required to undertake a public interest test. In this instance, we acknowledge the potential benefit in making the files available prior to the scheduled publication, in terms of aiding the promotion of public understanding and involvement in the democratic process. Having said that, we consider this benefit to be outweighed by the delay to the publication of assured and validated data, and by the confusion that could be caused by the additional errors that would be likely to be present in any data disclosed further to your FOI request, as a result of its not having been through the quality assurance and validation process. Also, the information on which the shapefiles are based is already in the public domain.
Your enquiry has been processed according to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) 2000. If you are unhappy with our response, you may request an internal review with our Internal Review Officer by contacting them, within two months of receipt of our final response to your Freedom of Information (FOI) request, as follows:
Internal Review Officer
Customer Service Centre
Please include the reference number above. You may request an internal review where you believe Ordnance Survey has:
- Failed to respond to your request within the time limits (normally 20 working days)
- Failed to tell you whether or not we hold the information
- Failed to provide the information you have requested
- Failed to explain the reasons for refusing a request
- Failed to correctly apply an exemption or exception
The Internal Review Officer will not have been involved in the original decision. They will conduct an independent internal review and will inform you of the outcome of the review normally within 20 working days, but exceptionally within 40 working days, in line with the Information Commissioner’s guidance.
The Internal Review Officer will either: uphold the original decision, provide an additional explanation of the exemption/s applied or release further information, if it is considered appropriate to do so.
Appeal to Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO)
If, following the outcome of the internal review you remain unhappy with our response, you may raise an appeal, within three months of receiving our response, with the Information Commissioner’s Office.
Further information can be found on the ICO website (ico.org.uk) under ‘Report a concern’ or you may wish to call the ICO helpline on 0303 123 1113.