The Freedom of Information Act 2000 gives you the right to request information from any public authority. It promotes openness and accountability among public sector organisations, so that everyone can understand how authorities make decisions, carry out their duties and spend public money. Somerset County Council recognises the importance of the Act and we are committed to meeting our responsibilities under it.
There are two key parts to the Freedom of Information Act:
1. The requirement for the Authority to develop and maintain a Publication Scheme
2. The requirement for the Authority to respond to any request for information within 20 working days
The government has set up a Commission to examine the Freedom of Information Act and consider what further restrictions should be imposed on the right to know.
In a letter co-ordinated by the Campaign, over 140 media bodies, campaign groups and others wrote to the Prime Minister in September 2015, expressing concern about the Commission’s composition and terms of reference.
Belatedly, the Commission issued a consultation paper which suggested it is considering sweeping restrictions to the legislation, including:
- imposing charges for requests
- making it easier to refuse requests on cost grounds
- making it more difficult to obtain public authorities’ internal discussions, or excluding some from access altogether
- strengthening ministers’ powers to veto disclosures
- changing the way the Act is enforced.
The Campaign together with ARTICLE 19 held a briefing meeting on October 21 2015 for organisations proposing to respond to the consultation. The meeting was attended by nearly 60 organisations. The slides from the meeting are available here.
We also organised a cross-party briefing at the House of Commons at which David Davis MP (former Home Secretary), Louise Haigh MP (Shadow Minister for Civil Service and Digital Reform) and Lord Tyler (Liberal Democrat Constitutional Affairs and Political Reform Spokesperson) spoke.
The Commission received approximately 30,000 responses to the consultation.
You can read the Campaign’s detailed response here.
The Commission held two oral evidence sessions on the 20th and 25th January 2016. The Campaign gave evidence on the 25th January. A video of the session is available here (the Campaign’s session starts 1:02 in). Transcripts and videos of all the sessions are here. The Commission’s report is expected to be published shortly. https://www.cfoi.org.uk/campaigns/stop-foi-restrictions/
Why is this important?
The government wants to restrict Freedom of Information laws – that help citizens expose dodgy lobbyists, poor government decisions and threats to public safety. They’re desperate to water down our right to hold them to account. While only a few of us may have ever made a request using Freedom of Information laws – they have the power to affect us all.
It was a ‘Freedom of Information’ (FOI) request that exposed the MPs’ expenses scandal. And it was another FOI request which exposed that a third of NHS contracts were being handed out to private companies. FOI requests are critical for many of the campaigns that improve our society.
Newspapers and several Conservative MPs have already spoken out against the plans. A huge people-powered petition – signed by hundreds of thousands of us – will add even more pressure on the government to scrap their idea. Please sign the petition now .https://speakout.38degrees.org.uk/campaigns/protect-freedom-of-information?medium=website&source=cfoi&campaign=from_2015-08-18