Headlines: July 2nd, 2004

A website has been launched to help the tens of thousands of public authorities getting ready for the Freedom of Information Act, which comes into operation at the beginning of next year. It is estimated that about 100,000 bodies – ranging from doctor’s surgeries to police forces and local councils to central government departments will benefit from the new site.The site has been set up by the Department for Constitutional Affairs to act as a ‘one-stop shop’ to answer questions about the new legislation. The law will mean that from January 1st members of the public will be able to request a wide range of information from public authorities, such as minutes of meetings and background material that has been used to make policy decisions.

All the organisations and authorities affected by the legislation can use the site at www.foi.gov.uk to find guidance on areas including planning and delivering internal training, procuring Freedom of Information IT systems, codes of practice for compliance with the Act and the DCA’s own Project Initiation Document for implementation of the new law. The site also contains a list of every public authority subject to the Freedom of Information Act and easy-to-follow instructions for people who might be interested in making a request for information after it comes into force. There is also background material on how the Freedom of Information Act came into being.

Information Rights Minister Lord Filkin said the website would be a valuable resource for everyone working to prepare for the Act coming into force. He was keen that the legislation would stimulate a change of attitude towards official information throughout the public services, which would need to engage the public at all levels. “Information is the lifeblood of this participation. Accurate and detailed information allows the public to engage, debate and challenge,” he added.