Sunday, 26 January 2014

Council told to disclose audit of children's autism services

North Yorkshire County Council has been told by the Information Commissioner's Office that it must disclose an audit of its autism services for children. The ICO said this would prevent potential discrimination against autistic children.

NYCC asked the National Autistic Society's Autism Accreditation team to audit its service in 2012 as part of a strategic review. The Harrogate and District National Autistic Society (a group of parent volunteers) asked to see the audit so they could respond more effectively to the Council's then consultation on autism services for children. As far as they were aware, the audit was the first and only time the service had been audited by an independent body and were keen to see how well the service was performing.

The Council refused twice, and the parent group appealed to the ICO. (It is worth noting that a public body spending money on a public service did not deem it sufficiently in the public interest to demonstrate how well that service was run.)

In his decision (6 January, 2014) in favour of the parent group the Information Commissioner's Office cited the following reasons:
Failure to disclose [the audit] could potentially indirectly discriminate against autistic children as they would not have the benefit of knowing which schools the auditors consider to provide the best performance to meet their children's particular needs or if their child's school could be performing better as regards to the needs of their child.  
There is a strong public interest in allowing the public access to information on how schools compare to each other and whether they provide as good a service as others.
The local authority can be called to account by parents. 
Allow parents to make an informed choice as to the most appropriate schools for their children
Allow for a more informed dialogue between parents and local authority. 
The full decision notice can be found here. NYCC can appeal the decision, otherwise must publish the audit by 10 February.

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