The Government has unveiled a series of proposals aimed at limiting people’s ability to make Freedom of Information (FOI) requests. The news is concerning as the Freedom of Information Act has given taxpayers greater ability to scrutinise how their money is spent and how their services are run.
Existing laws already allow public sector bodies to refuse FOI requests if responding to them is deemed too time consuming, but the new proposals would make it easier for them to do this. As the Campaign for Freedom of Information points out, requests involving complex or contentious issues are likely to be refused if the proposals are adopted.
One particularly worrying suggestion would stop reporters from the same media group making requests that cost more than £450 in the same three month period. Under current rules it only matters how much a request costs, not how many times an individual has made requests. This idea would restrict journalists’ ability to report the facts and protect the public interest.
Although the Government feels its proposals to limit access to information will encourage more consistent use of the Freedom of Information Act and ensure better value for money, many taxpayers will feel differently.
Matthew Sinclair, Chief Executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance has proposed that the Government should be more proactive in publishing information so fewer requests are necessary and costs are reduced. Making the process harder, which would also make it harder to expose wasteful spending, is the wrong approach to making savings.