Almost one in three government departments do not yet know the deadline for the Freedom of Information Act, even though 75 per cent are confident of hitting it.
Research conducted by The Stationery Office (TSO) found that three-quarters of government departments have yet to set a budget for tackling FOI compliance, even though most rank it as more important than the 2005 e-government targets and second only behind the Data Protection Act.
Findings from the research, conducted among 76 central government departments, reflect concerns voiced last month by Information Commissioner Richard Thomas that the public sector is failing to take freedom of information seriously enough.
The Act, due to come into force in January 2005, will allow anyone to make a request for information held on them by a public body.
But Paul Ellis, corporate marketing director at TSO, told vnunet.com that the research findings highlighted widespread ignorance and naivety, and a fragmented approach to information policies.
"This is an act that affects every public sector body, even down to Parish councils. For larger organisations it will be far more demanding on resources, costs and strategy than they realise," he said.
"Many technology providers have a solution that addresses part of the problem but I don't believe there's a one-stop shop.
"Technology companies are already approaching public sector bodies but every pitch I see seems to pitch one technology solution, rather than saying this is an information problem first and foremost."
The introduction of the Act coincides with other government information-related strategies, including electronic records management and online public services.
"There's such a high degree of overlap," Ellis said. "Departments need to step up a level and look at a more joined up information strategy - how can we plan this so we have the best information reuse and what technology is available to best serve this purpose."
Most central government departments, which currently receive between 1,000 and 1,300 written requests for information every month, anticipate at least a 10 per cent increase in the number of requests due to the Act.
But 63 per cent of respondents believed the changes needed in their internal operations to cater for FOI would be minimal or non-existent.
TSO, formerly Her Majesty's Stationery Office, specialises in information management services to a predominantly public sector client base.
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