Maurice Frankel: Freedom of information is under threat

Maurice Frankel, Director of the Campaign for Freedom of Information, reports that use of the Freedom of Information Act could be drastically reduced as a result of sweeping restrictions proposed by ministers.

"In a cost cutting move, the government has proposed making it far easier for public authorities to block requests for information. The government estimates that 1 in 8 requests which currently have to be answered would be refused on cost grounds in future...

The public will be left in the dark. A consultants’ report suggests that the proposed new restrictions would save central government about £5.6 million a year, with roughly similar savings from the rest of the public sector. Yet the total annual cost of the legislation, about £35 million, is only a tenth of what the government spends on publicity campaigns through the Central Office of Information.

FOI is one of the means of exposing wasteful spending by public bodies. The Act, introduced less than 2 years ago, has provided a constant flow of information about the costs of contracts, consultancies and expenses claims.

The most striking example comes from the Scottish FOI Act, where disclosure of Members of the Scottish Parliament’s individual expense claims has, for the first time led to fall in the total claimed, after several years of year on year growth."

Freedom of Information laws are under attack (The Telegraph, 23 October 2006)