Freedom of information

AT Shire Hall, I find the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act a bit of a pain. Not that I have any particular desire to keep things secret. It is just that we now have to employ staff specifically to deal with the requests in the timescales laid down in the

AT Shire Hall, I find the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act a bit of a pain. Not that I have any particular desire to keep things secret.

It is just that we now have to employ staff specifically to deal with the requests in the timescales laid down in the act.

It all costs money. Generally, we do not charge the occasional casual inquirer, but we reserve the right to charge for investigations that take too long or cost too much.

The one thing that irritates me beyond belief is people and organisations who go straight into the FOI process without waiting to see if a routine telephone call might have got them the same information.

When a newspaper says "papers obtained by this paper under the Freedom of Information Act have revealed that ..." it manages to imply that we were deliberately withholding such information until the act was invoked.

In many cases, that is simply not true. The false implication tends to increase the "hype" surrounding the subject.

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Of course, the Act has its uses. I see that someone has demanded to see what assumptions the Government made about the effect on pension funds before Gordon Brown introduced (in his 1997 Budget) the £5,000million annual raid on pensions funds by changing the rules on Advance Corporation Tax.

When the request was first made, shortly after that 1997 budget, the Government refused to divulge the information on the grounds that it was confidential to the Government's economic policy. Now it has been submitted again. And this time the adjudicator has ruled that confidential information from 1997 should not be withheld for ever, and that 2006 would be a reasonable time frame in which to release it.

I can hardly wait. As I say, perhaps the Act does have its uses after all. My own (uncharitable as always) opinion is that they never thought about the consequences, but do not want to admit so. Perhaps we will find out over the next few weeks.

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