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Responses to take stock of

Martin Rosenbaum | 16:53 UK time, Wednesday, 7 March 2007

When last October the government first announced its plans to restrict freedom of information, it said it would 'take stock of the responses to this position'. (This was before the current formal consultation exercise).

So what were the responses? I have today obtained copies of them through making an FOI request to the Department for Constitutional Affairs. The score for opposing the government's plans is 12.5 out of 13.

Completely against: 6 from the media (BBC, Newspaper Society, Society of Editors, Financial Times, Sunday Telegraph, Newsquest), 5 from campaign groups (Campaign for Freedom of Information, Friends of the Earth, Public Concern at Work, Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative), and 1 individual (a law professor at Queen's University, Belfast).

50-50: the Association of Chief Police Officers, which backed the plan to let reading, consideration and consultation time count towards estimating the cost of FOI requests, but opposed the plan to allow 'aggregation' of unrelated requests from the same person or organisation.

I can't post all the responses, but for the sake of balance, here's the ACPO one.

What's not clear is why it took the DCA nearly three months to respond to this very simple FOI request.

Comments   Post your comment

  • 1.
  • At 06:31 PM on 07 Mar 2007,
  • Paul Dockree wrote:

Martin,

Quote "What's not clear is why it took the DCA nearly three months to respond to this very simple FOI request".

Out of 13 responses .5 for restriction and 12.5 against restriction?

I might suggest it is the time needed to think up a defence of why to ignore such a high percentage of opposition.

Like the recently criticised phone-in programmes on TV - the "lines on the influencing the final decision are closed" sometimes - even before the public or media are asked to give their views on some proposal or other.

For Governments to say they are listening doesn't guarantee opposition is actually being heard and due note taken. The two words "cosmetic exercise" come to mind when the Government are determined on something.

  • 2.
  • At 03:54 PM on 08 Mar 2007,
  • Bob wrote:

Martin

This article does not give a fair picture. Responses to consultations take time to prepare; hence responses only tend to be received from bodies with a vested interest in the policy - e.g. journalists who depend on FOI for a living and lobby groups.

The other bodies with an interest in this policy change are the Government departments and public sector bodies which they sponsor which have to process FOI requests at a cost to their organisation, or possibly lobby groups who support lower taxation. You would therefore expect a response to the consultation from these organisations.


However, as your blog helpfully points out(http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/opensecrets/2006/06/something_in_the_air_1.html) a Cabinet Committee on FOI exists. This is the forum in which the alternative side to this argument would have been raised and fed into the policy consulation.

What would be the point of these departments, and the organisations they represent, submitting another response to the policy the collectively agreed Government position, apart from balancing your policy making scorecard?

  • 3.
  • At 04:51 PM on 08 Mar 2007,
  • Bob wrote:

.... and it may have taken them three months as they would probably have written to each of the consultees to seek their permission to release the information. Whilst i'm sure the BBC would have responded instantly who knows about the other organisations.

What i am unsure about is why you made this FOI request in the first place? Was it just so you could write a column like above? If so did you consider the cost to the taxpayer of having to process the request - perhaps requests like this are why the Government is reconsidering FOI!

  • 4.
  • At 06:30 PM on 08 Mar 2007,
  • Paul Dockree wrote:

Bob has confirmed it then. Everything has a bottom line cost - even openness.

We were give a wonderful Freedom Of Information Act - a firework with bells and whistles attached. Sadly how it was enacted was more a damp squib.

So it seems if we need to know something under the FOI our second thought after the query to be put must be - is this worth the Government bothering to spend any money on? Fine it is you think and put in said request under FOI.

The trouble is, Bob, the cost of such requests for information being answered has been seemingly misused not to give answers on certain issues perceived as "awkward". One cannot have it both ways but the suggested alterations seem to be an attempt to prove that view wrong.

Freedom of Information doesn't do exactly what it says on the tin at the moment - the FOI Act proposed amendment means it will do nothing at all.

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