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  • Strong and stable FoI

    Posted on May 12th, 2010 admin No comments
    A representative Government?

    A representative Government?

    So we have a new Government at last and this Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition is looking around for things they can agree on.

    Well rumour has it that one thing they are going to take from their manifestos and bring to Parliament is a so-called Freedom Bill.

    This was a plank of Liberal Democrat policy and pledged to strengthen the powers of the Data Protection Act and the Freedom of Information Act.

    It specifically made mention of bringing private companies under the Act if they are delivering monopoly services to the public. They specifically mention that Network Rail should be brought under FoI legislation, but I presume it would also then extend to utility organisations like water and power companies.

    The reason it would appear that this may be pushed through is that it is not completely at odds with Conservative policy, which although less specific did make noises about strengthening the power of the Information Commissioner, giving him the power to fine organisations that are found guilty of mismanaging data.

    So it would appear that Clegg and Cameron can find common ground on a Freedom of Information agenda and the power and reach of the legislation could even be extended.

    If this does come to fruition and private companies working in the public sector are brought under the Act it means the Information Commissioner will have to do his second U-turn on the issue – he really must be getting quite dizzy.

    It was assumed that water companies did fall under the Environmental Information Regulations (EIR) after a decision relating to Sutton and East Surrey Water PLC (FER0118853 and FER0162211).

    However a decision released in March by the Commissioner [FER0260426] reversed that ruling and stated that water and sewerage companies were not public authorities for the purposes of the EIR. This decision notice, which isn’t on the Commissioner’s website (e-mail me if you want a copy), refered to a complaint I had made against Thames Water [link].

    This reversal, that is signed off by poacher-turned-gamekeeper Steve Wood, used an Information Tribunal decision relating to Network Rail (EA/2006/0061 and EA/2006/0062) as part of the rationale for exempting such companies.

    Now it appears the world might be turned on its head again and the legal decisions are to be trumped by the lawmakers.

    So if they have got time between working out where the cuts are going to go the Government may just give the Freedom of Information world a bit of a shake down.

  • Journalist to give update on FoI’s progress

    Posted on May 1st, 2009 admin No comments

    FoI officers have been invited to a talk at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism to hear Jeremy Hayes of BBC Radio 4′s ‘The World Tonight’ give a report on the media’s use of the legislation.

    His paper, entitled ‘A SHOCK TO THE SYSTEM: Journalism, Government and the Freedom of Information Act’, explores not only the media’s use of the Act but the way it has changed the reporting landscape for journalists and public authorities.

    The session, which is open to all, is being held at the Reuters Institute, in Oxford, on May 20, at 5pm. (link)

    Also in attendance will be Jon Ungoed-Thomas, Chief reporter of The Sunday Times and Steve Wood, former blogger and now Assistant Information Commissioner.

    Below is a little bit of information about the report:

    Journalists using the Freedom of Information Act have forced details of MPs’ Second Homes allowances into the open, with embarrassing results for Home Secretary , Jacqui Smith and other Ministers. Many other revelations have come about through the Act in the spirit of Open Government.

    But over four years the Act has become a game of Cat and Mouse with Whitehall with protracted delays and appeals to official arbiters like the Information Commissioner making requests for Information a gamble for journalists working to a deadline.

    ‘A Shock to the System’ is an incisive and informative report by Jeremy Hayes of BBC Radio 4′s ‘The World Tonight into how FOI is working in Britain. Mr Hayes, a BBC Fellow at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, has interviewed the main players in the Freedom of Information world. He explores the pressures in the Civil Service and government which led Justice Secretary, Jack Straw to veto the release of Cabinet papers over the decision to go to war in Iraq, as well as other critical policy decisions.

    He reveals the growing role of Campaign organizations in using the Act to bolster their agenda and explains why to some journalists, with an eye on public bodies like Health Trusts and national agencies, FOI has become a gold mine for disclosures of  previously confidential information.