Justice Committee backs FOI

July 26, 2012 4:31 PM

The House of Commons Justice Committee has concluded in its latest report that the Freedom of Information Act is ‘working well’ and that no significant changes to the law are required. This is good news. There were reasons to be nervous when the Committee was gathering evidence, most notably about the introduction of charging for FOIs. But the Act in the Justice Committee’s own words has improved ‘openness, transparency and accountability’ in government. Thanks to the Freedom of Information Act, taxpayers can now request a wealth of information on how public bodies spend their money.

There are a few notes of caution alongside the good news in the report, and the Save FOI campaign has discussed this at length over at their blog. As noted by my colleague Chris Daniel last year, a significant number of public bodies do not fall under the Act and Nick Clegg's proposals to extend it would be welcome, too. It's comforting to know that the Committee have backed Freedom of Information but there is still a lot more that the Government can do. So far they have taken positive steps: all but one local council, for example, now reveal their payments to suppliers over £500 on a monthly or quarterly basis (Nottingham City Council being the exception). But so much data can now be released with the click of a button, without the need for FOI requests.

In the long run, all public bodies would do well to adopt a culture of transparency rather than simply paying lip service to the law, in order to regain the trust of taxpayers which has been significantly eroded in recent years with events such as the MPs’ expenses scandal. FOI may incur costs for the public sector but the twin benefits of transparency and increased accountability certainly outweigh them. The Freedom of Information Act has undoubtedly strengthened our democracy and laid the foundations for a more accountable and open public sector. It is up to politicians and other public servants to continue this process and deliver a system of government which has the full confidence of taxpayers.

 The House of Commons Justice Committee has concluded in its latest report that the Freedom of Information Act is ‘working well’ and that no significant changes to the law are required. This is good news. There were reasons to be nervous when the Committee was gathering evidence, most notably about the introduction of charging for FOIs. But the Act in the Justice Committee’s own words has improved ‘openness, transparency and accountability’ in government. Thanks to the Freedom of Information Act, taxpayers can now request a wealth of information on how public bodies spend their money.

There are a few notes of caution alongside the good news in the report, and the Save FOI campaign has discussed this at length over at their blog. As noted by my colleague Chris Daniel last year, a significant number of public bodies do not fall under the Act and Nick Clegg's proposals to extend it would be welcome, too. It's comforting to know that the Committee have backed Freedom of Information but there is still a lot more that the Government can do. So far they have taken positive steps: all but one local council, for example, now reveal their payments to suppliers over £500 on a monthly or quarterly basis (Nottingham City Council being the exception). But so much data can now be released with the click of a button, without the need for FOI requests.

In the long run, all public bodies would do well to adopt a culture of transparency rather than simply paying lip service to the law, in order to regain the trust of taxpayers which has been significantly eroded in recent years with events such as the MPs’ expenses scandal. FOI may incur costs for the public sector but the twin benefits of transparency and increased accountability certainly outweigh them. The Freedom of Information Act has undoubtedly strengthened our democracy and laid the foundations for a more accountable and open public sector. It is up to politicians and other public servants to continue this process and deliver a system of government which has the full confidence of taxpayers.

 

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