Headlines: December 14th, 2005

A Welsh council has been ordered by the Information Commissioner to release the latest hygiene inspection report for a local hotel under the Freedom of Information Act. The decision to make Bridgend comply with the request coincides with agreement from the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham to join the growing number of councils that routinely publish food hygiene inspection reports on their websites after requests under the Act.The Information Commissioner, Richard Thomas, said Bridgend Council had argued that releasing the inspection reports would undermine the way it carried out its responsibilities but he had been unable to agree that their refusal was justified. “The public has a right to know what health inspections discover. Well-run restaurants have nothing to fear – and much to gain – from public scrutiny. Publishing inspection reports will put pressure on restaurants to raise their standards, “he added.

The Freedom of Information Act, he said, had brought an array of previously undisclosed information into the public domain, such as hygiene inspection reports, which were now being released throughout the country, but while some authorities had been quick to seize the initiative and make disclosures routine, others had been much slower to issue the information at all. “My advice to local authorities is absolutely clear, the presumption should be in favour of disclosure. There is a strong public interest in the disclosure of this particular category of information, because it gives the public valuable knowledge when making choices about where to eat out,” Mr. Thomas said.

Hammersmith and Fulham had originally turned down a request made by ‘WHICH?’ to view hygiene inspection reports from the last five years. The council was concerned that disclosure could be too damaging to local catering traders, and the inspection process. But following a complaint by ‘WHICH?’ to the Commissioner the Borough agreed to not only release the requested reports, but to make this and future information generally available through their website, and to set up a star rating system.