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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

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.

Since 2011 the Secret Intelligence Service, otherwise known as MI6, has cut its carbon dioxide emissions and shifted from being in the worst category for energy efficiency to rating better than would be typical for its kind of building.

This is disclosed in the organisation's official Display Energy Certificate, which I reveal here. Until recently this document was publicly available on the internet, despite this being contrary to the relevant regulations, but it has now been removed.

GCB Display Energy Certificate

The certificate states the address for the MI6 headquarters at Vauxhall Cross in central London. It gives "GCB" as the occupier of the building. This stands for Government Communications Bureau, which is sometimes used as a cover name for MI6.


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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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Month of birth affects chance of attending Oxbridge

A woman cycles past Balliol College in Oxford

The likelihood of becoming a student at Oxford or Cambridge Universities can be strongly influenced by date of birth.

Last year the chance of someone born in October becoming an Oxbridge undergraduate was more than 30% higher than for someone born in July.

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Submariners punished for drunken misconduct

HMS Astute

How serious is the problem of drunkenness and indiscipline within the Royal Navy's submarine service?

Figures obtained by the BBC show that there have been more than 300 disciplinary incidents in the past three years on the navy's 13 submarines, including 42 cases of misconduct or unfitness through alcohol or drugs.

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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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