The Campaign has submitted a formal response to the Department for Constitutional Affairs about the proposed changes to the fees regulations under the FOI Act. This sets out serious concerns about the damaging effects of the proposals and calls on the government to honour a ministerial commitment to carry out a proper public consultation before changing the regulations.
The government’s new proposals to restrict use of the FOI Act are based in part on a survey carried out in January 2006 of the time needed to respond to FOI requests. This data was used to estimate the costs of the FOI Act and the possible savings from new restrictions. (These estimates are contained in a report commissioned by the Department for Constitutional Affairs from consultants ‘Frontier Economics’) .
Two months before the government’s proposals were published, the Campaign made an FOI request for the data obtained during this survey.
The request was refused by the Department for Constitutional Affairs. The DCA maintained that the information fell within the FOI exemption relating to the “formulation and development of government policy” and that the balance of public interest favoured withholding the information.
However, the survey merely describes the numbers of requests made to each government department during the week in question and provides a breakdown of the time needed to respond to them.
The Campaign has now asked the DCA to review its refusal, pointing out that (a) the requested information is largely factual (b) the FOI Act requires departments to have regard to “the particular public interest” in disclosing such factual information (c) the Act envisages that such information will be disclosed before decisions are taken (d) the DCA’s decision to refuse the request appears to completely disregard its own guidance on the exemption (e) access to the data at the time of the request could have prevented the Frontier Economics report from incorporating at least one exaggerated estimate of the volume of FOI requests being made (f) other important opportunities to make use of the data have already been lost.
The amount of information made public about politically contentious issues would be severely cut under new government proposals to restrict ‘time consuming’ freedom of information requests, campaigners warn. Thirteen per cent of all requests to government departments which currently have to be dealt with could be refused on cost grounds in future under the proposals.
Has your MP signed the Parliamentary motion which expresses concern that the Government is considering changes to the charging arrangements under the Freedom of Information Act?
The Campaign for Freedom of Information reacted with concern to reports that the government is considering measures to reduce the amount of information disclosed under the Freedom of Information Act.
This article by the Campaign’s director, Maurice Frankel, appeared in Press Gazette on 13 January 2006
During more than 20 years of campaigning for a freedom of information act, two questions repeatedly nagged me. The obvious one: would Britain ever get an FOI Act? And the more troubling one: if we did, would it be worth having?