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Thursday, March 29, 2007

The Price of Information


The government want to be able to refuse requests under the Freedom of Information Act if they cost more than £600 to process.

FOI requests total £35m to process each year.

Of this £35m, government figures show requests from journalists cost £4m.

Last night, the government put through a communications allowance for MPs. The annual cost ? £6m - which Jack Straw described as a "reasonable and relatively modest sum" to improve the quality of information given to constituents.


So the £6m for MPs to communicate to us is an acceptable cost, but the £4m it costs government to give journalists and news organisations is un-acceptable.

Where would you rather spend your money ?

11 comments:

  1. Where would I rather put my money ? That depends on which newspaper you read.

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  2. Bombadier Perez (Ex)29 Mar 2007, 10:28:00

    Here's a wacky idea - why don't we skimp on just one of the spare tail fins for the Trident replacement missiles - then you could have both and pocket the change. :-)

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  3. Hmmm just wondering, if the press only takes up 4m of 35m. Who requests the other 31m worth? I can't imagine there are that many members of the public making random request so a good bulk of it is probably the opposition parties. Why don't we make them pay for them - they hardly make requests because of our right to know.

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  4. There's no doubt about it - I'd rather the money be spent giving journalists their FOI requests (especially the ones I agree with!). MPs probably manipulate the information given to their constituents anyway

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  5. Does this have anything to do with the "Misrepresentation of the People Act" ? Thought this was supposed to be more than just another ranting anti-establishment blog ?

    Blah

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  6. It is! What do you think of the act?

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  7. the bleedin obvious29 Mar 2007, 13:12:00

    Errrr... surely if the problem is a financial one - just make the media pay for the service ?

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  8. Quite – evidently, the problem is not merely financial…

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  9. According to the ePolitix article linked above, the £6 million is likely to be used:

    “To fund the production and distribution of documents including annual reports, surveys and letters.”

    In other words, so much waste paper. Such government publications are usually little more than vainglorious propaganda, and to sanction the funding of yet more of the bloody things with taxpayers’ money is unconscionable.

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  10. I am a Penryn born Cornishman from the United Kingdom and a growing Cornish and Breton speaker.

    The Cornish are a Celtic ethnic group and nation of the southwest of Great Britain. We have our own lesser used Celtic language (Cornish), sports, festivals, cuisine, music, dance, history and identity. Cornwall also has a distinct constitutional history as a Duchy with an autonomous stannary parliament. This Celtic Cornish identity was recognised and described in the April 2006 edition of National Geographic.

    The results from the 2001 UK population census show over thirty seven thousand people hold a Cornish identity instead of English or British. On this census, to claim to be Cornish, you had to deny being British, by crossing out the British option and then write Cornish in the others box. Additionally the decision to collect information on Cornish identity was extremely badly publicised.

    Cornwall Council’s Feb 2003 MORI Poll showed 55% in favour of a democratically-elected, fully-devolved regional assembly for Cornwall, (this was an increase from 46% in favour in a 2002 poll). The Cornish Assembly petition was signed by 50,000 people, which is the largest expression of popular support for devolved power in the whole of the United Kingdom and possibly Europe.

    The UK government has failed to give the people of Cornwall the democratic referendum on greater autonomy and a devolved assembly that they have shown a demand for.

    Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott and local government minister Ruth Kelly have been less than forthcoming to Mebyon Kernow under the Freedom of Information Act.



    In 2005 Mebyon Kernow the party for Cornwall wrote to the then Office of the Deputy Prime Minister requesting copies of government documents prepared in the wake of the 50,000 signature “Cornish Declaration” which was passed to the Prime Minister on 12 December 2001.



    Cllr Phil Rendle, MK’s Deputy Leader (Campaigns) explained:



    “We have long wondered what Tony Blair’s government made of this magnificent expression of Cornish support for devolution. In 2005 we decided to use the Freedom of Information Act to find out. The result was disgraceful.”



    Even though, the ODPM is obliged under the Act to respond to requests promptly and in any event no later than 20 days, Mebyon Kernow’s original request remains unacknowledged and unanswered. Last year, as part of their celebration of the fifth anniversary of the Declaration, MK resumed its demand – this time to Ruth Kelly’s new Department for Communities and Local Government. So far, two letters have been received – although no information has yet been released and no explanation or apology given for failing to respond to the 2005 request.



    “Crucially” says Cllr Rendle, “the DCLG have admitted that ‘The Department holds the information you are seeking’ - but getting it into the public domain is proving difficult to say the least!”



    The two letters are peppered with phrases such as “qualified exemptions”, “public interest tests” and the most tortuous reasons are given not to yield this information without delay:



    “Your request, however, raises complex public interest considerations which must be analysed before we can come to a decision on releasing the information… consideration must be given as to whether or not the public interest in withholding the information requested outweighs the public interest in disclosing it…[the] balance needs to be struck between disclosing sufficient information to allow informed debate and protecting the space within which ministers are advised and formulate policy.”



    The second letter from Ruth Kelly’s department pontificates:



    “The application of the public interest balance in relation to this exemption is particularly complex. The public interest both in disclosure of some information and in the withholding of other information lies in what might broadly described as good government”!



    Phil Rendle asks:



    “We are just trying to find out what Government made of Cornwall’s 50,000-signature petition. Why all this prevarication? Why all this legalistic mumbo-jumbo? If government “holds the information [we] are seeking” why not release it to the people of Cornwall. We have received two stalling letters, but we will continue to press until all the information is released.”


    I would also like to know your thoughts on a the UK governments response to the request for information under the UK's freedom of informations act.

    I look forward to your response.

    Lowena dhys

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  11. Another example includes the attempt by various Cornish groups to get Cornish culture recognised for protection under the Council of Europes framework convention for the protection of national minorities. The Freedom of Information Act is supposed to facilitate Tony Blair's claims to a transparent system of government. The latest reply from Tony's team regarding which government offices were involved in the decision to exclude Cornwall from the Framework Convention for the Protection of Nation Minorities, and their reasons why they cannot disclose information, exposes a massive loophole in the F.O.I. Act.


    The Email below...


    I refer to your email of 7th December 2006, requesting information under the Freedom of Information Act (Ref no: F0001961).

    In his email of 8th January 2007, Ian Naysmith provided most of the information that you had requested in your email of 7th December 2006. This information included the fact that all Government departments had been consulted on the question of whether the Cornish should be included under the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities (the Framework Convention). He also explained that the Department needed further time to consider your request for all correspondence relating to that same question, namely which government departments (national and local) have been consulted in regard to the inclusion, or otherwise, of the Cornish within the Framework Convention. That was because this information engaged an exemption and we needed additional time to consider the public interest test.

    I can confirm that the Department holds the correspondence relating to the question of which government departments were consulted in relation to the inclusion or otherwise of the Cornish within the Framework Convention. However, this information is being withheld as it is exempt by virtue of Section 35(1) (a) and (b) of the Freedom of Information Act 2000. Section 35(1)(a) provides that information is exempt if it relates to the formulation or development of government policy or (s 35(1)(b)) Ministerial communications, including proceedings of any committee of the Cabinet.

    Section 35 is a qualified exemption. Therefore, we have had to consider whether the public interest in withholding the information is outweighed by the public interest in disclosing it.

    We believe that there is a public interest in having access to the Government’s internal consideration of the question of whether the Cornish should be included under the Framework Convention. This information is of particular interest to you and to others who support the inclusion of the Cornish. In addition, we recognise that as knowledge of the way Government works increases, the public contribution to the policy making process could become more effective.

    However, in order to reach the best possible decision on any matter of policy, Ministers need to feel free to discuss all the available options freely and frankly with one another and with their officials without fearing that these discussions will be made public. Such a concern would be likely to have an inhibiting and detrimental effect on the candour of advice and views expressed in such discussions, which would jeopardise the fully informed and thoroughly considered decision-making process that currently exists through impairing the quality of advice presented to Ministers. This would, in turn, undermine the quality of policy making. There is in particular a strong public interest in maintaining the convention of Ministerial collective responsibility for government policy, and it is this convention which section 35(1)(b) is designed to protect.

    We have therefore concluded that the public interest in maintaining the exemptions outweighs the public interest in disclosing the information.

    The Department, as an organisation, aims to be as helpful as possible in the way it deals with requests for information under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 and the Environmental Information Regulations 2004. If, however, you are not satisfied with the way in which your request has been handled or the outcome, information about the Department's review procedures and how to apply for an internal review of your case is contained on the Department's website at www.communities.gov.uk. This also explains your right to apply directly to the Information Commissioner for a decision in the event that you remain dissatisfied following the authority's review.

    Please contact me if you have any queries about this email.

    Yours sincerely
    Jennifer Ashby

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