FOI legislation has failed to open up Whitehall to public scrutiny

According to the Independent, "Labour's much-trumpeted freedom of information laws have failed to open up Whitehall to public scrutiny", as evidenced by the first 12 months of the new FOI regime coming into force: "A year after we were first granted the "right to know", new figures show nine out of 17 government departments have failed to provide adequate answers to half of the requests they received."

According to Maurice Frankel, Director of the Campaign for Freedom of Information, "the good news is that we have a functioning Act which has produced a substantial amount of previously undisclosed information." But the bad news is that fees for environmental information are being imposed by some authorities, and the FOI Act's free access to information may not continue since discussions are now underway to possibly implement a higher charging scheme.

Delays have also been a problem: the Treasury has met the 20-day limit in only 43 per cent of cases, but some departments deal with 80 per cent of requests on time. And the UK Information Commissioner has a backlog of over 1,300 unresolved complaints. The Commissioner has issued over 120 formal decisions, but most of these simply involve procedural issues about delays or disputes concerning what information exists. Frankel reports that only 24 decisions have dealt with substantive issues "and none involve exemptions relating to policy-making, frankness of discussion or the 'effective conduct of public affairs'. By contrast the commissioner who enforces the Scottish FOI Act has issued 55 decisions, beginning the process of chipping away at the excessive use of exemptions." To date the Scottish Information Commissioner has issued 87 decisions.

'Right to know' fails to open the Government's vaults of secrets (The Independent, 31 December 2005)

It's Britain, so some doors are locked (Maurice Frankel in the Independent, 31 December 2005)