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Martin Rosenbaum, Freedom of information specialist

Martin Rosenbaum Freedom of information specialist

My thoughts on freedom of information, the issues it raises, the changes it is causing, the stories that result – and what it means for you

Simon Hughes spells out his pre-election FOI plans

Simon Hughes

Should it be a state secret how often cabinet committees meet?

"I wouldn't have thought so," says Simon Hughes, the coalition minister responsible for freedom of information policy.

But it's perhaps just another issue where he's not in line with all his government colleagues.

"Cabinet committees are known, membership of cabinet committees and sub-committees is known, and the fact they have met is clearly often known," he argues. "There are some that never meet or barely ever meet."

In contrast, however, the Cabinet Office has spent more than two years fighting a BBC FOI request asking how many times the Reducing Regulation sub-committee has met. This was set up in 2010 to oversee the scrapping of unnecessary bureaucratic "red tape".

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How do restaurant chains compare for food hygiene?

Cooked chicken

Around one in three of the fast food outlets trading under the names of Dixy Chicken and Chicken Cottage failed to meet satisfactory levels for food hygiene when they were last inspected.

This is revealed in a BBC analysis of recent inspection data collated by the Food Standards Agency.

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The energy secrets of MI6 headquarters

MI6 headquarters

Now here's a public service which seems to have a very good record of improving the energy efficiency of its headquarters over the past two years.

You might think that they would want to boast about it, but in this case it's secret and you're not meant to know.

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If Neil Kinnock had become prime minister in 1992

This has to be one of the more ironic disclosures I have received in response to a Freedom of Information request.

It is a document that was never used. It was prepared by the civil service in case the 1992 general election resulted in a Labour victory and Neil Kinnock became prime minister.

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Briefing papers not 'verbose' enough to be revealed

Neil Kinnock, 1992
Neil Kinnock during the 1992 general election campaign

As a journalist who often makes freedom of information requests I have come across a range of reasons from public authorities for keeping documents secret.

However I have now encountered a new justification - official briefing papers that apparently cannot be shown to the public because they are too succinct and not verbose enough.

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Cabinet Office blamed for 'serious shortcomings' on FOI

Cabinet Office, 70 Whitehall

The Cabinet Office is supposed to be leading the government's drive towards greater openness, but today it has been criticised by the Information Commissioner Christopher Graham for "serious shortcomings" in its handling of freedom of information requests.

Mr Graham says the Cabinet Office's poor performance is "particularly disappointing" and has announced today that it will now be subject to a period of intensive monitoring by his office to ensure improvement.

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Commissioner rejects case against releasing energy data

Light switch

Tens of thousands of buildings across the UK which are visited by the public have to display energy efficiency certificates. The idea is to allow visitors to see the site's energy performance and provide an incentive for improvement.

But what if you want to compare the energy efficiency ratings of many different buildings to get an overall national analysis? It's far from easy to get the figures needed to do that.

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Ten vascular surgeons to have safety review

Scrubbing in

Ten vascular surgeons are to have their work reviewed to investigate whether they have been performing operations at an acceptably safe level.

This follows the path-breaking publication of data on death rates for individual hospital consultants who conduct surgery on major blood vessels.

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Surgeon data will lead to alerts over high death rates

Surgeons performing heart surgery

When data was released last week about the death rates for individual vascular surgeons, the report from the Royal College of Surgeons stressed reassuringly that "all surgeons are performing within the range expected".

Indeed each doctor named in the document was listed with a green triangle symbol to confirm this status.

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About Martin

BBC News specialist in using the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act.

Trains and advises BBC journalists on FOI, and has addressed international conferences on journalism and FOI. Some stories the BBC has produced using FOI can be found here.

Executive producer in the BBC Political Programmes department, overseeing a variety of radio programming.

Producer of radio documentaries on topics ranging from the inside story of Gordon Brown's premiership to the politics of The Simpsons.

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