Headlines: June 4th, 2008

The Information Commissioner has called on public bodies to end unnecessary secrecy and to be more proactive in disclosing information. Richard Thomas told a conference that the Freedom of Information Act had had a huge impact on public life and a growing number of local councils, government departments and other institutions were seeing the benefits of greater transparency.

Mr. Thomas has also released new figures detailing progress in handling complaints under the Act in the three years since it came into force. His office has received around 8,300 complaints about public authorities that have refused to release information and has closed just over 82% of them. The figures show the ICO is upholding as many public authority decisions to withhold information as it is backing complainants’ demands for disclosure.

Mr. Thomas, who has written to all public authority chief executives to urge them to release more official information, said, “Secrecy should not be the default position, whether in Whitehall or elsewhere. I am pleased that more and more government departments, local authorities, police bodies, NHS organisations and other public authorities are seeing the benefits of greater transparency and disclosing official material as a matter of routine. I encourage all public authorities to see that transparency as the norm should result in improved administration and fewer requests.”

Under the FOI all authorities have to adopt a publication scheme committing them to publishing routinely certain sorts of information but present schemes expire at the end of this year. A new model publication scheme which must be adopted by all public authorities has been developed.

Graham Smith, Deputy Information Commissioner, said freedom of information had become part of the fabric of public life. Limited resources meant some cases still took longer to resolve than he would have liked but the target this year is to close half of complaints within 30 days. “