Monday, February 12, 2007

Freedom of Information Act under threat

Yes that is right. This government which brought in the Freedom of Information act in 2000, is now looking for ways of curtailing it.

They want to set a limit on "FOI" requests in terms of costs to £600 for central government and £450 for local government and other agencies. The issue is how you arrive at that figure. They want to allow for management time as well. Staff time will be "charged" at £25 per hour. So if you ask a sticky question like where has all this money gone, or how much have you spent on something silly, that did not work out, they can have a management meeting with say six people for two hours, racking up £300 before they have asked a lawyer for advice.

They will also ration FOI requests by "group" and push unhelpful questioners down the list.

Now there is a cost argument as you could send in hundreds of requests and pester a department to it's wits end, but in fact the total cost saving of cutting the infringing FOI requests is estimated at £12 million, which in terms of a government budget of circa £500 billion is peanuts to get transparency.

In short it is a great way of getting out of answering awkward questions. Its wrong.

For more see Ellee Seymour's excellent article here.

Meanwhile I am still waiting for my first answer on an FOI request. Apparently the Home Office only starts the clock ticking once they have worked out which department should deal with it!


Ellee said...

Thank you for highlighting his. It does cause me great concern. The proposed changes mean, in effect, that making a response for FOI can be manipulated as being too timely/troublesome, the cost issue is the least important factor, it is a case that information will be denied to the public. It is shameful, but nobody is really making a song and dance about it, and so many Labour MPs have spoken out about it too. I'm hoping there will be cross-party support to reject it, but the governemnt always gets what it wants at the end of the day. Even if 1 million plus people sign a petition because they feel strongly about road charging, they are still ignored. And 4 million people signed petitions against post office closures. So how do you get your message heard?

Benedict White said...

Ellee, Well, how about organising a petition and getting the blogosphere in volved in a campaign to get it signed?