Business as usual in many councils

Heather Brooke takes a look at what is on offer from local councils throughout the UK. Information such as the latest inspection of a local restaurant, fire safety reports of nearby cinemas and theatres, council tax bills for similar properties in your neighbourhood are all available online under FOI laws in America - but will they be made available here?

The London borough of Greenwich has stated that food hygiene certificates issued to restaurants will be searchable online. Their website ( already lists every catering outlet in the borough and the results of inspections carried out since last July. Surrey council is publishing the names of traders who engage in dishonest practices but few other councils are following their lead. Many are simply waiting to see what kind of requests they receive before deciding on what additional information they will make available online.

Larger organisations appear to be more innovative when it comes to increased openness. The Health and Safety Executive provides an online database that names and shames businesses that violate regulations ( Healthcare regulators such as the General Medical Council (GMC) ( and Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain ( have searchable online registers and the GMC also makes minutes from its disciplinary hearings available online. The Food Standards Agency ( also publishes minutes from all of its board meetings online.

However, Brooke sees these as being the exceptions "the rule is foot-dragging and a stubborn adherence to the secrecy status quo [...] defensive and suspicious public authorities are unwilling to disclose new types of information. Even fewer are willing to listen to what the public wants or provide ways for the public to engage directly with decision-makers."

Councils decide whether to go public: Just what do councils plan to publish online to comply with the Freedom of Information Act? (The Guardian, 26 January 2005)