Headlines: November 11th, 2005

The Freedom of Information Act is having a positive impact on campaigning by voluntary and community organisations according to new research, which also shows that more advice is needed. The report produced by the National Council for Voluntary Organisations and Ashridge Business School shows that in the first six months of the Act almost ten per cent of voluntary groups made at least one request for information.Voluntary organisations are using the Act to find out how public bodies arrive at their decisions and who is being listened to in that decision-making process, including whether the views of voluntary organisations are taken into account. The study also predicts that a growing number of organisations will use the Act to inform their campaigning activity, in many cases around corporate influence on public policy.

In spite of the numbers of organisations making requests under the Act, the study found that there was a need for even greater awareness of the legislation and where to get support. The survey revealed that 29 per cent of respondents were not at all familiar with the Act, 59 per cent were not aware of how to get help using it and 85 per cent would value more information.

In response the NCVO has published a guide to the Freedom of Information Act which is available online. Stuart Etherington, NCVO’s Chief Executive said campaigning was a key area of work for the voluntary and community sector and the Act could be a valuable tool. The report, he said, showed that where organisations were aware of the Act they had made use of it in their work. The report’s lead author, Matthew Gitsham, from Ashridge Business School, said the Act would have a major impact on how business interacted with government and research showed that more than 20,000 organisations had plans to make requests about this. “Not only will the legislation bring a new accountability to the way in which companies lobby government, it may also reveal a few skeletons in the closet,” he said.