Thursday, 22 August 2013

And the next person to leave the ICO is ...

The Information Commissioner's Office has just published an extremely interesting document showing that it could be having a record year. A record year in terms of staff turnover, that is.  A paper prepared for last month’s meeting of the ICO’s Management Board suggested that the current trend, based on the first quarter’s figures, was for 19% of staff to leave the organisation by the end of the current financial year. 

Given that the 2012-13 actual staff turnover was just 7.7%, should this be of much concern? 

Hopefully, the staff turnover stats for the first quarter of the current year (4.7%) were just an aberration.  And there are plenty of people left – the ICO does have a staff of some 395 (or 363.6 when you count them in terms of full time equivalents).Staff levels do not appear to be reducing.

Perhaps there are good reasons for such a high turnover rate in such a fine organisation. It’s not as a result of much internal disciplinary action. The ICO has only conducted 7 discipline, dignity at work and grievance cases since April 2012. It’s obviously a nice place to work, and packed with people who are nice to each other. It’s also quite a healthy environment. Only 5.46 days a year are lost to sickness, compared with the civil service average of 8 days a year. 

Perhaps more data controllers are realising that they need people who have some hands-on experience of this data protection stuff, and because practitioners are quite thin on the ground, they want people with intimate knowledge of what it as that regulators are really concerned about, so that they can fix those areas of their businesses, first.

Perhaps the local economy is picking up, and some of “Wilmslow’s finest” are being tempted away by employers who can offer better packages than the ICO can. It can’t be pleasant commuting to such an exclusive area, past estate agents and car showrooms that advertise homes and vehicles so far beyond the price range of the average ICO employee. 

But people do still want to work at the ICO. Some 213 applicants responded to some 25 recruitment campaigns, and 55 interviews were held during the first quarter. 

Perhaps part of the answer is the changing nature of the ICO’s work. Fewer staff are required to help organisations register their details and pay their fees, and people with different skills are required in the policy, audit and enforcement teams.  
So, a possible (but, presumably, unlikely) 19% staff turnover rate need not be a cause for undue concern for those of us who are interested in what emerges from the ICO. Essential posts can still be filled when the incumbent leaves. And if Parliament wishes to question the effectiveness of the organisation, it needs to ask itself whether it allocated sufficient resources to the ICO in the first place. 
After all, the revamped financial regulator, the Financial Conduct Authority, has apparently increased its funding requirements by 15% to £432.1 million, following the disbanding of the Financial Services Authority earlier this year.

If it costs that much to regulate the UK’s financial services industry, is it really the case that the ICO can properly regulate all 372,369 organisations who have registered as data controllers, and also to supervise the FOI landscape, on a budget of just £20 million? That’s less than one twentieth (4.6%) of the FCA’s budget. 

Answers to the usual address, please.


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