FOI in Wales: A step in the right direction but there's still a long way to go

Anne Jones, the assistant information commissioner for Wales, has praised the "success" of the FOI Act, but she said her own office was finding it difficult to process complaints quickly with an average wait of four months.

Mrs Jones told BBC Wales News that although there had been teething problems with the new legislation she thought that overall it has definitely been a success: "There's been a lot of information released this year that wouldn't have been released in 2004," she said. "There's a long way to go yet but it seems to us that most public authorities are taking the act seriously."

Mrs Jones said she receives around 11 complaints a month about the responses public authorities have made to requests for information. The office in Wales previously had no full-time staff dealing with FoI but now consists of three people, and Mrs Jones said she was appealing for funding for up to three more staff.

The BBC Wales News Website also asked some of the people most affected by the FOI Act what the effects of the legislation have been in Wales. Cardiff County Council's information manager Phillip Bradshaw said the council had initially struggled with the demand for information but now they have better resources: "When people ask for all the information on a subject, the files can be two feet high." He said the council had received over 300 requests for information in 2005 and estimated the cost of processing all the claims was over £100,000.

Newport West MP Paul Flynn said he thought the FOI Act has had a big effect on politics: "It influences everything. There is not the secrecy that there was before." However, Western Mail chief reporter, Martin Shipton, was a bit more sceptical. He thinks the FOI Act is a step forward but it still has severe limitations: "I would like to see a much stronger Freedom of Information Act where the assumption is that unless there are very serious grounds for not releasing information it will be disclosed. The approach adopted here is very restrictive. Why should that be the case in an open society?"

Freedom culture change 'needed': A year since the Freedom of Information Act became law, one of Wales' chief watchdogs says there is still a long way to go to achieve more openness (BBC website, 29 December 2005)

What people who have used the new law say: Freedom Act - the users' verdicts (BBC website, 29 December 2005)