Manifesto commitments on freedom of information and open government

The Liberal Democrats are the only one of the 3 main parties to specifically mention Freedom of Information in their election manifesto. The Lib Dems are promising to:

Strengthen the Data Protection Act and the Office of the Information Commissioner, extending Freedom of Information legislation to private companies delivering monopoly public services such as Network Rail.

The Lib Dem manifesto also pledges the introduction of a Freedom Bill to restore civil liberties. A draft Freedom Bill published last year contained proposals to remove the ministerial veto from the FOI Act and limit the Act’s exemptions.

The Labour and the Conservative manifestos both promise to make more government data public. The Labour manifesto states:

Citizens expect their public services to be transparent. We will open up government, embedding access to information and data into the very fabric of public services. Citizens should be able to compare local services, demand improvements, choose between providers, and hold government to account.

We have led the world with the creation of, putting over 3,000 government datasets online. Entrepreneurs and developers have used these datasets to unleash social innovation, creating applications and websites for citizens from local crime maps to new guides to help find good care homes or GPs. We will now publish a Domesday Book of all non-personal datasets held by government and its agencies, with a default assumption that these will be made public. We will explore how to give citizens direct access to the data held on them by public agencies, so that people can use and control their own personal data in their interaction with service providers and the wider community.

While the Conservative manifesto says:

we will create a powerful new right to government data, enabling the public to request – and receive – government datasets in an open and standardised format. Independent estimates suggest this could provide a £6 billion boost the the UK economy…

A Conservative government will bring in new measures to enable the public to scrutinise the government’s accounts to see whether it is providing value for money. All data will be published in an open and standardised format.

The Conservative manifesto explicitly promises to:

  • publish all items of spending over £25,000 online, and he salaries of senior civil servants in central government will also be published.
  • require public bodies to publish online the job titles of every member of staff and the salaries and expenses of senior officials paid more than the lowest salary permissable in Pay Band 1 of the Senior Civil Service pay scale and organograms that include all positions in those bodies;
  • require senior civil servants to publish online details of expense claims and meetings with lobbyists
  •  apply these transparency principles to local government, with the threshold for publication and spending items and contracts set at £500, and for publication of salaries the same as at the national level
  • …publishing in full government contracts for goods and services worth over £25,000; and
  • increasing the accountability of EU spending by publishing details of every UK project that receives over £25,000 of EU funds
  •  publishing full details of British aid on the DFID website. This will include spending data on a project-by-project basis, published in an open and standardised format
  • publish all performance data currently kept secret by the Department for Children, Schools and Families
  • publish detailed data about the performance of healthcare providers online
  • oblige the police to publish detailed local crime data statistics every month

The Conservative manifesto also repeats a promise made in their policy paper Reversing the Rise of the Surveillance State, that they “will strengthen the powers of the Information Commissioner to penalise any public body found guily of mismanaging data”. However, the manifesto does not mention the policy paper’s commitment that in future the Information Commissioner would be appointed by Parliament rather than the Ministry of Justice.

UPDATE 21/4/10: The Green Party manifesto promises:

Free up information – allow us to see the data they have on us.We believe that citizens should be entitled to access to information held by Government except where specifically restricted. Restrictions should protect the privacy of individual citizens and national security. Information on policy formulation, the conduct of public affairs, the environment and health and safety should be freely available.

It also reports the following disclosure under FOI following a request from a Green councillor:

Green councillor earns fairer rents deal for seafront traders
After Conservative-led Brighton & Hove City Council hiked rent and other costs for many seafront businesses, members of the Seafront Business Association asked local Green Councillor Jason Kitcat for help. Through a Freedom of Information request Councillor Kitcat revealed a council deal with private chartered surveyors, who would receive a commission of 30 per cent on any rent increase they could negotiate with the seafront traders, on top of their fixed fee. As a result, the assessment of the majority of seafront rents has now been handed to a new in-house team; the result should be fairer rents for traders.

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