As part of Transform's work on the new drug strategy and the current consultation process, we thought it would be useful to know as much possible about the old strategy, basically what research the Government had done to evaluate its effectiveness on various criteria. So on the 2nd of August we put in a Freedom of Information request to the Home Office with some nice and easy to answer questions about this.
Last week we received our reply. If I can keep you in suspense for a moment about the actual answer, the Home Office letter usefully summarizes the seven requests we made as follows:
- supply you with a copy of any unpublished research that the Home Office has undertaken or commissioned to inform its current review of the Government's Drug Strategy;
- supply you with details of all unpublished research undertaken or commissioned by the Home office since 1997, including research that was not completed or is still not completed, into the effectiveness and/or efficiency of the Government's Drug Strategy in preventing drug use and drug harms;
- supply you with details of all unpublished research undertaken or commissioned by the Home office since 1997, including research that was not completed or still is to be completed, into the effectiveness and/or efficiency of the the Government's Drug strategy in reducing drug-related offending;
- supply you with a copy of any unpublished research undertaken or commissioned by the Home Office since 1997, including research that was not completed or still is to be completed, which examines the value for money of the Government's Drug Strategy;
- supply you with details of any unpublished research undertaken or commissioned by the Home Office since 1997, including research that was not completed or still is to be completed, into the effectiveness and/or efficiency of the Government's drug treatment programme;
- supply you with details of any unpublished research undertaken or commissioned by the Home Office since 1997, including research that was not completed or still is to be completed, into the effectiveness and/or efficiency of the Government's drug education/prevention strategy in reducing drug use and drug related harms amongst young people; and
- supply you with details of any unpublished options appraisals undertaken or commissioned by the Home office since 1997, including any that were not completed or are still to be completed, into the Government's Drug Strategy
And after all, given that we are now half way through what the Government is describing as its biggest consultation ever, one that is undoubtedly costing millions, it seems entirely appropriate that all the relevant evaluation research is on the table, or at least known about. We aren't asking for CCTV from the Home Office toilets or plans for how to make nuclear weapons, just a list of research undertaken and copies of a few relevant studies (some of which we understand do exist - unpublished), to enable Transform and others to make a proper and informed response to the very important drug strategy consultation. So....
The response was that:
"We have estimated that the cost of answering your requests would exceed the £600 limit and we are therefore unable to comply with it"
It is usefully explained in the previous paragraph that:
Are we seriously to believe that the Home Office has so little clue about what research it has undertaken that it will take more than three and half days to get a simple list together, and fish out a couple of the relevant studies? To me this is barely credible, and smacks of obfuscation and delay. Presumably this recently introduced costs defence could be applied to almost any information request. Rather ridiculously the letter then goes on to inform us that:
....the Home Office is not obliged to comply with any information request where the prescribed costs of supplying you with the information exceed £600. The £600 limit applies to all central government departments and is based on work being carried out at a rate of £25 an hour, which equates to 3 1/2 days work per request.
"You should be aware that the costs in answering some of your requests [we are not told which] individually exceeded the cost limit of £600 but that we also aggregated the costs of complying as well as permitted by the Fees Regulations and that too exceeded the £600 limit."Brilliant! So we can send them in separately and we will get the answers, or at least some of them? But no:
You may wish to consider refining your requests, particularly over the time period you have set. You should however be aware that if you break your requests down into a series of smaller requests , we might depending on the circumstances of the case, decline to answer if the aggregated costs of complying exceeds £600.Have we stumbled into a George Orwell novel? What the Hell is going on?
We are essentially at a dead end, with the Home Office basically able to snub even the simplest of information requests with a completely non-transparent 'sorry - costs more than £600' get-out clause. We are now reduced to going through the laborious and almost certainly pointless appeals procedure that will no doubt drag on way beyond the close of the consultation period. They can spend bazillions on a flashy national consultation process but cannot be arsed to spend a couple of grand to let us know what they do about policy effectiveness.
Cynics, and I am one when it comes to Home office pronouncements on drug policy, would conclude one of the following:
- The Home Office haven't done any evaluation at all and are stonewalling because they are embarrassed that they know nothing; or
- The Home Office have done loads of unpublished evaluations but they are stonewalling because they are embarrassed about the fact that this research shows that their strategy (in contrast to the ludicrous spin in the consultation document) is a malfunctioning and counterproductive failure.
For me, the idea of a 'consultation' involves open, honest and informed dialogue. The Home Office clearly does not share this view, and the drug strategy consultation is shaping up to be the shockingly bad, but perhaps fitting finale to a disastrous 10 years of drug-war madness.
more discussion of the drug strategy consultation here