Charles letters: What ruling means for freedom of information

Prince Charles

The Supreme Court ruling about Prince Charles's letters to ministers takes freedom of information to the heart of the British state, the most sensitive area of the relationship between the Royal Family and the government.

Or alternatively it's all about a peripheral matter which has little to do with how contemporary political decision-making happens.

That depends partly on your view of the role of the monarchy in the UK today.

But the Supreme Court's judgment, which implies that "advocacy correspondence" from Prince Charles to ministers should be made public, will allow us all greater insight to make up our own minds on this question.

The complexities of the dispute are illustrated by the fact that it has taken 10 years for the case to work its way from the initial FOI request in 2005 to final decision, with the legal decisions along the way operating like a pendulum going back and forth between secrecy and disclosure.

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Winter fuel payment rejected by about 400 pensioners

Thermostat being adjusted by elderly woman

This winter just 29 pensioners decided to decline their fuel allowance. It brings the total number of pensioners who relinquish this benefit to probably about 400 out of over 12 million recipients.

That's despite the fact that two years ago the Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith encouraged better off pensioners who can afford their heating bills to return the money to the state.

Read full article Winter fuel payment rejected by about 400 pensioners

Police forces say BBC FOI request is 'vexatious'

Police tape at crime scene

Forty police forces across the country have dismissed as "vexatious" a BBC freedom of information (FOI) application about police monitoring of journalists' communications.

It appears the police have adopted a virtually blanket policy of now rejecting all FOI requests about the use of their surveillance powers to collect communications data on journalists - irrespective of the questions actually asked or how often, if at all, that requester has raised the issue before.

Read full article Police forces say BBC FOI request is 'vexatious'

10 things we found out because of Freedom of Information

  • 2 January 2015
  • From the section Magazine
Leafing through a file

The Freedom of Information Act came in 10 years ago. It's led to the unearthing of a trove of facts.

Ten years ago, thanks to the actions of a "naive, foolish, irresponsible nincompoop", the British people acquired an important new legal right.

Read full article 10 things we found out because of Freedom of Information

How the Civil Service objected to Kinnock's FOI plans

Documents obtained by the BBC reveal how Whitehall officials wanted to weaken the freedom of information plans that Neil Kinnock would have introduced if he had become prime minister.

They are part of the briefing pack that civil servants had prepared to give to Lord Kinnock (as he now is) if Labour under his leadership had won the 1992 general election.

Read full article How the Civil Service objected to Kinnock's FOI plans

Where is Network Rail going on the transparency train?

Rail maintenance workers

Closures of level crossings, the cost of station refurbishments, levels of executive pay, more detailed measures of train performance - these are some of the topics which Network Rail thinks it will be asked about once it is covered by the Freedom of Information Act. That's according to the company's head of transparency, Mark Farrow, who is in charge of its preparations.

Network Rail, which maintains and operates Britain's rail infrastructure, expects to be subject to FOI from April next year and is planning on that assumption. The government has not yet issued the relevant regulations, but the justice minister Simon Hughes has made clear his determination to do so.

Read full article Where is Network Rail going on the transparency train?

New top job in Whitehall attracts only 13 applicants

Whitehall sign

Only 13 people applied for the newly created post of chief executive of the civil service.

This follows complaints that the new position lacks sufficient authority, has confusing lines of accountability, and is not paid enough to attract the interest of many high flyers from the private sector.

Read full article New top job in Whitehall attracts only 13 applicants

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.

Read full article Simon Hughes spells out his pre-election FOI plans

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.

Read full article How do restaurant chains compare for food hygiene?

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.

Read full article The energy secrets of MI6 headquarters