Freedom of Information -At a Price.

Your right to know is under threat.                                                                                        Councils are demanding that they be allowed to charge people for making freedom of information requests.                                                                              

Local authorities have called for Freedom of Information requests to be subject to fees and are seeking lower cost limits to make it easier for them to refuse questions. In a response to the Independent Commission on Freedom of Information the Local Government Association has also said that requestors should have to set out a public interest case when framing their FoI requests. Lowering the cost limit would mean that complex requests, and those which require more effort to answer, are more likely to be rejected. The body, which represents local authorities, told the commission that the “overwhelming” view of its members is the “burden” of FoI should be reduced.

Legislation already exists to refuse information on the grounds of costs.                              An organisation can also refuse your Freedom of Information (FOI) request if it will cost more than £450 (£600 for central government) to find and extract the information .

Introducing charges for making an FoI request could set an unwelcome precedent.         The LGA proposal does not mention that councils could increase these charges year on year (which will be another income stream) and used as a pretext to prevent the disclosure of information. Raising FoI charges is an excuse to hide behind sloppy procedures and reinforce the lack of transparency by many LA’s.                                                              Councils and public bodies are supposed to publish as much information as they can online including the land they own, details of grants they have given out, senior salaries, and all payments to contractors over £500. But if they don’t, any question, however simple, you put in writing to them should be treated by them as a Freedom of Information request. That means they have to answer it unless there is a legal reason not to do so.  They can’t simply say they don’t want to tell you as they could do before the act came in.                                                                                                               Why is it necessary to send FoI requests to RMBC to find out how much is spent on taxis and how much is spent on translators?                                                        Vexatious and frivolous FoI requests do not have be answered nor is it difficult to weed them out.                                                                                                            

Recent Freedom of Information requests uncovered blatant misuses of public money:

Police chiefs have received up to £55,000 from the taxpayer to move house, an investigation has found. Stamp duty, curtains, TV aerials and renovation work have apparently been put on expenses.

Barracks shut after rapes ‘cost £1 million’  .

Three firms suspended after probe into rigged construction safety exams.

£525 Million House building budget not spent.

Government and LGA officials should remember what Eric Pickles said in the House of Commons:                                                                                                                                             “If town halls want to reduce the amount they spend on responding to freedom of information requests they should consider making the information freely available in the first place.
“The simple act of throwing open the books, rather than waiting for them to be prised apart by the force of an FoI, might even save a few pounds in the process. “Ninety councils have already published details of day-to-day spending over £500 online. Those councils recognise that not only does the public have a legitimate right to see information about what their council spends and the decisions it makes, but that openness and transparency is absolutely critical to root out waste and inefficiency.”

Openess and Transparency. These are not radical concepts and the more open and transparent councils are means they will reduce the amount of time and money spent answering FoI requests for information that should be in the public domain.                          Simples.

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2 Responses to Freedom of Information -At a Price.

  1. S Thornton says:

    SHAME on those who seek to redact this information. But to be honest, RMBC will only release information when they have to. Even then they break the Law by not replying to FOI requests within 20 working days.


  2. Insider. says:

    Blair says in his memoirs he regrets introducing the Freedom of Information Act
    He now realises the FoI act exposes Labour MP’s and Labour councils who are guilty of corruption, financial irregularities and sloppy procedures amongst other wrongdoings. It is no surprise the Labour dominated LGA wants to restrict citizens rights to know how and why their money is spent by raising charges and why the LGA is inventing spurious reasons to delay why they should not be held their electorate.
    Freedom of Information should be just that, not Freedom of Information Except Some Information That Might Embarrass Us.


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