FOI Act should be exempt from cost-cutting measures

According to the Economist the idea that access to information is a fundamental civil right lay behind the long campaign for a UK Freedom of Information Act: "But since it came into force in 2005, the FOIA has not always been treated with reverence. One request made under it was for the e-mail addresses of all the unmarried policemen in Hampshire; another wanted the number of sex acts perpetrated on Welsh sheep in 2003. The government is using such frivolous applications as part of the rationale for making it harder to get information."

Around 120,000 requests are filed under the FOI Act every year. Private citizens made 60% of requests, with businesses and journalists accounting for 20% and 10% respectively. Many different types of facts have emerged, including information about restaurants' hygiene records, controversial mortality statistics for individual surgeons, and details of government contracts with the private sector.

In 2005 the FOIA cost taxpayers £35.5m. In its article the Economist argues that new measures being considered by the DCA will only save around £12m a year: "There are better targets for penny-pinching than the cheap and effective Freedom of Information Act, but watering it down might make official lives a bit easier."

Every expense spared: The government thinks coming clean costs too much (The Economist, 19 December 2006)