Desire for a FOI charging regime equates to reduced accountability of public bodies

A guest post, originally posted on his excellent Hawktalk blog, by Dr Chris Pounder


Desire for a FOI charging regime equates to reduced accountability of public bodies

I have to confess that I am just a normal type of guy who reads Hansard and watches the BBC’s Parliamentary Channel. The last (wet) bank-holiday weekend, for instance, there was a riveting repeat of Jack Straw’s evidence to the Justice Committee on the operation of the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act.

As Home Secretary, Jack Straw was responsible for piloting the Data Protection and Freedom of Information Bills through Parliament; he knows where the legislative skeletons can be found. And at the time of his stewardship of the FOI Bill in Parliament, he knew that Tony Blair had decided that FOI was his worst idea ever. He confirmed that but for the Ministerial veto, the Government would have dropped the FOI Bill.

So I think his take on the current review of FOI is important. I also think Straw’s position is close to what I think the Government would like to propose.

As an aside, remember that the Data Protection and FOI Acts started off as Home Office Bills (prop J. Straw); that is why these Acts have significant exemptions in areas that cover Home Office functions such as law enforcement, policing, immigration and national security. Jack Straw protected his fiefdom very well.

Anyway back Jack Straw’s evidence to the Justice Committee; it amounted to four propositions:

•    charge the applicant about £10-£15 for each FOI access request;
•    make the FOIA exemptions in Section 35 (formulation of Ministerial policy etc) and Section 36 (prejudice to the effective conduct of public affairs) in so far as they apply to Ministerial decisions an absolute, class exemption (i.e. no public interest test);
•    reword the “formulation or development of government policy” part of the Section 35 exemption so that it applies indefinitely, and
•    keep the Ministerial veto as a safeguard to be used sparingly in other cases.

The argument over FOI as debated at the moment has two strands:

•    One strand goes something like this: “FOI requests costs us £184 each so it is only proper the applicant pays a modest amount, especially in these days when money is tight”.
•    The second strand is that Ministers (unlike NHS boards, police boards and Mayors in large conurbations) are in a special place because when they determine policy, they should be able to keep key information secret for at least 20 years (the minimum time when documents become public records).

As can be seen the second argument is far more difficult to make; that is why there is a fuss over the latest veto re the NHS Risk Assessment. Hence, the focus of debate is more on the first strand.

Backing the cost arguments is a report is a Mori study which has provided some cost estimates (which are not representative, if you read the report carefully). For example, Mori reports that:

“Statistics produced by the Ministry of Justice over the period 1 October 2010 – 30 September 2011 indicate that Departments of State and other monitored bodies covered by these statistics received a total of 45,958 FOI requests. In order to produce an estimate of the total annual cost in staff time of processing and responding to central government requests, it is possible to multiply £184 (the average cost of the 225 FOI requests submitted to central government) by the total number of requests received. This gives an estimated staff cost of £8,456,272 per year”.

Before you say that £8.5 million could allow us to build a new school or a hundredth of a new fighter aircraft, just ask what this money is doing?

I would argue that for £8.5 million, we get 46,000 FOI requestors using their own resources to make a Government accountable for its spending of £722 billions (the annual figure for expenditure on Central Government Departments). In other words, a relative spend of a small amount on FOI (0.01% of Government expenditure on Central Government) has the potential to hold Government accountable across the whole extent of its policy range (subject to an exemption, of course).

Similarly, for the Universities. For instance, JISC, the UK’s body on information and digital technology in higher education, tracked 36 requests in seven institutions and found that the average cost, including staff time, of answering an FoI request was £121. Extrapolating this research to all FOI costs for the University sector, the cost of FOI can be estimated to be between £2.3 and £9.2 million (or around 16,000 – 40,000 requests across the University sector – if that £121 number is accurate).

But again ask: “What do you get for that money?”. In the UK, there are about 120,000 students paying about £7,000-£9,000 each per year under the new student loan system – that is about £1 billion; the public money spent on Universities by the Treasury is  around £9billion. So it follows that members of the public are contributing £10 billion to University sector; so spending something like £5 million on general public accountability to 25,000 requestors via FOI. This represents about 0.05% of spending in the University sector; pretty good value I would argue.

Of course these numbers (i.e. the 0.01% and 0.05%) I have quoted above are only an approximate guide, but they should be of the correct order of magnitude. They confirm that FOI expenditure is small beer indeed compared with what every taxpayer gains in accountability.

Of course, also, it’s a pain for a University to provide details of why it is doing animal research that has been banned in Germany or why a Minister does not want to publish a health risk assessment (suspected to confirm that the new Health Reforms could destabilise the NHS; yesterday’s veto does not help allay those fears, I should add).

However this is what accountability is all about; it is very uncomfortable at times for those being held to account. So when Ministers use private emails to conduct a public policy debate (to avoid FOI), they really don’t like it when an independent regulator says that these emails are still subject to FOI requests.

Once upon a time, making public bodies accountable was central to Government policy. Remember in June 2011, Communities and Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles, stated that he wanted “a new wave of local scrutiny by citizen journalists, microbloggers and armchair auditors” as their role was needed in  “in eliminating waste and inefficiency to deliver value for money to the taxpayer and help protect services”. Isn’t this is what the product of an FOI does in many instances – raise issues of concern?

The Secretary of State even cited cases uncovered by local armchair auditors; for instance in Barnet where “serious deficiencies in procurement arrangements saw the council spend over £1m of taxpayers’ money to hire a private security firm with no tendering exercise, contract or proper invoicing. It was and activist bloggers” or in Islington where “many invoices had been paid more than once”.

I would argue that an adjunct of the Pickles’ policy of encouraging “armchair auditors” is to empower them to make follow-up FOI requests, free of charge, about public contracts. If the Government introduces charges for FOIA requests, the Mr Pickles “armchair auditor” idea is finished. Which armchair auditor is going to shell out £10-£15 to follow an accounting trail?

In other words, I think the issue about FOI is simple: if you don’t want public accountability, implement a FOI charging regime. Tony Blair understood that charging undermines FOI – and his memoirs eloquently explained the motive. It appears that this Government is following in Blair’s wake for the same reasons one should add.

Honestly, the final equation is very simple: FOI charging = unaccountability (especially for Central Government).


Jack Straw’s evidence session (uncorrected):

Local Government FOI costs:

Higher education FOI costs:

Mori cost evidence: Download Blog May 2011 investigative-study-informing-foia

Dr Chris Pounder, with colleague Sue Cullen, formerly of law firm Pinsent Masons LLP, are the longest-established training team dedicated to information law. Their website is

Why an FOI charge is a terrible idea

A guest post by Tim Turner

In the current climate where people and organisations seem keen to take aim at FOI, one recurrent theme is to introduce a charge on FOI requests or – as the Blair government considered only a year after the 2000 Act’s implementation, a limit on the number of requests that could be made. Newsnight recently reported that such proposals are being considered by the Cabinet Office (, although they denied all knowledge of this when I asked them:  It’s a superficially simple idea, and yet there are many reasons why it’s a terrible idea. Here’s five

1. It’s an act of huge hypocrisy

Like Tony Blair before him, in opposition David Cameron trumpeted the importance of FOI and transparency. But he cannot pull the Jack Straw argument that it’s all a huge and unwelcome surprise (and neither can Straw, because I met the civil servants working on FOI in the Home Office during the bill’s passage when I worked at the ICO, and the Labour hierarchy were told what they were letting themselves in for). Cameron was elected in 2001 – the year after FOI was passed, and it was implemented in the same year he was elected leader of the Conservative Party. In other words, he entered politics in the FOI Age; he knew what kind of world he was entering, and he sold himself as being part of it in run-up to the 2010 election.

2. It’s an act of supreme political myopia

Unlike Tony Blair before him, in opposition both David Cameron and Nick Clegg’s parties benefitted hugely from FOI’s implementation. When I worked in local government, we received large numbers of FOI requests sent explicitly from the Conservative and Liberal Democrat Research Departments (several of Michael Gove’s close advisors made a lot of them). They used FOI routinely. Here’s a little tip for you all – sooner or later, you’re going to be in opposition again. Look at the political drama John Healey generated from his FOI requests on the NHS Risk Register. If you add a charge to FOI, you’re going to restrict access to a vital political resource that you, or your predecessors, are going to need.

3. It represents the ultimate triumph for spin

Nobody proposes that we will be charged for access to press releases. Journalists will not have to pay for comments, tips or leaks. All of the information that public bodies from Government departments down to schools want the public to see will still go out, free of charge. Spin will be easier and cheaper to get than facts. This is, in itself, a good enough argument for FOI to be free. British public life is already choked with debates fuelled by prejudice and tribalism – any responsible government should do whatever it can to allow access to facts and evidence to improve the quality of our dire political discourse. Unless, of course, they have something to hide.

4. It’s regressive

Perhaps a well-funded media or political organisation will be able to make as many FOI requests as they do now (if there is such a thing). But think of the average voter, the small charity of pressure group, the unemployed, the retired – the introduction of a charge will have a disproportionate effect on those who need to use FOI most. If we’re all in it together, why should access to a vital tool of democracy be based on ability to pay?

5. It will cost a fortune

Everywhere I have ever worked has come up with a bizarre-sounding estimate for how much it costs them to raise an invoice. While there is an entirely valid and separate argument about why this should not be the case, the introduction of a charging scheme for FOI will involve massive costs. Every organisation subject to FOI will have to change its policies and procedures. It will have to put in place additional administrative measures, train its staff (hey, this sounds like a good bit!) and deal with pointless paperwork.

And that is just the start. What is an FOI request? How many punters will try to get round the charge by claiming that they’re not making an FOI request but doing something else? How many complaints and other correspondence will be complicated and distended by back-door information requests? How many councillors and MPs will see their postbag co-opted by those seeking information by other means? And how much staff time will be taken up by this new process of interpretation and mediation? Anyone who pays income tax, council tax, business rates, corporation tax and VAT have already paid for this information – the process of charging us for it again will be needlessly and inevitably expensive.

And to conclude, if an FOI charge comes in, however it’s done, there will be ways around it. People like me will donate our time and identities to make requests on behalf of others if some kind of volume cap is introduced. If a flat rate fee comes in, I am ready to start the fund to help public-spirited citizens to make the most important FOIs with my own money, and I hope I won’t be alone.

FOI can be annoying, difficult, and inconvenient (where in the world would it be easy?) but a charge will change none of that. It will stain the reputation of every politician who votes for it, and implicate every public body who agitates for it. Better records management would provide a much bigger efficiency saving for the public sector than a silly charge could ever do, without the concurrent attack on accountability.

But you don’t hear anyone shouting for that, because this whole debate is not about cost or efficiency. It’s about power. Sunlight may be a great disinfectant, but it seems that some are still worried about getting burned.

Tim Turner runs 2040training, blogs at and tweets as @tim2040

Fifth evidence session of Justice Committee announced

The fifth evidence session of the Justice Committee’s post-legislative scrutiny of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 has been announced. It will take place next Tuesday, 17 April, and evidence will be heard from the following:

At 10.30am

  • Rt Hon Jack Straw MP

At 11.30am

  • Dr Nick Palmer, Director of International and Corporate Relations;
  • Michelle Thew, Chief Executive; and
  • David Thomas, Legal Consultant, British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection

The British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection’s written evidence is here.

In 2009 Jack Straw, famously, as Justice Secretary, was the first minister to exercise the government power of veto under section 53 of the FOI Act, in order to prevent disclosure of minutes of Cabinet meeting during the run-up to the Iraq war in 2003. See the Campaign for Freedom of Information’s press release at the time.

The Daily Telegraph also reported in 2009 that Straw was part of a delegation of MPs who lobbied the then Information Commissioner as he was investigating complaints about refusals to disclose details of MPs’ expenses claims.

saveFOI plan to live-tweet this session, as we have with all four previous ones.

FOI – A New Exemption?

In a talk given to a “Solicitors in Local Government” weekend school the Deputy Information Commissioner Graham Smith was reported to have made some interesting observations relating to the post-legislative scrutiny of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA). He was said by to have told his audience that

local government’s concerns about freedom of information are not being heard by the Commons Justice Committee as it scrutinises the Freedom of Information Act. ‘There’s no strong voice from local government in this process before the justice committee.’

Perhaps more importantly, he was also said, by the Law Society Gazette, to have warned that

the volume of FoI requests would continue to increase. Ironically, one cause was the government’s transparency agenda: the requirement to publish all items of spending over £500 ‘just puts things out there that cause people to ask questions’, he said. ‘I can’t see that changing.’

‘The clear challenge is that the number of requests is going to go up and up, often building on information that is already in the public domain.’

and perhaps most interesting of all that

the information commissioner would support moves to introduce a specific exemption for frivolous requests

Two observations can or should be made: first, these are second-hand reports of his speech – we are not aware that it has been published anywhere, or that any formal statement has been made by his office on this subject; second, FOIA already has an exemption at section 14(1), which allows public authorities not to comply with a request that is “vexatious” and, if it was correctly reported, it is interesting that Smith’s apparent nod towards a possible new exemption was made the weekend after the Information Tribunal gave a very strong  judgment which criticised the makers of “vexatious requests” and appeared to advocate a broad interpretation of “vexatiousness”

Abuse of the right to information under s.1 of FOIA is the most dangerous enemy of the continuing exercise of that right for legitimate purposes. It damages FOIA and the vital rights that it enacted in the public perception. In our view, the ICO and the Tribunal should have no hesitation in upholding public authorities which invoke s.14(1) in answer to grossly excessive or ill – intentioned requests

Whether, ultimately, Parliament decides to enact a new, or amended, exemption for “frivolous requests”, remains to be seen, but it seems that the Information Tribunal (or at least this specific tribunal) is perhaps less convinced of a need for change than the ICO.

Behind Closed Doors

A guest post from Jonathan Baines

“Before the game’s afoot, thou still let’st slip”

The government is said to be proposing to introduce charges for making Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA) requests. BBC Newsnight reports that it has

learned that the government is gearing up to charge for freedom of information enquiries… gearing up to charge different tariffs

So now we know where the battle-line is drawn. Or do we?

This story comes in the middle of a process by which FOIA is subjected to what is known as post-legislative scrutiny. This process, under which a committee is asked to investigate how an Act of Parliament has operated since its commencement, has been followed in some detail by the saveFOI campaign: the founders of that campaign (of which I am one) think that the scrutiny is important. We welcome any review of FOIA, while opposing any suggestions it should be weakened. We have attended some of the committee sessions, and live-tweeted remotely where that hasn’t been possible. We have written many blog posts on the subject. Suffice to say we are actively engaging in the process as interested citizens.

But what is strange is that Allegra Stratton’s* Newsnight story did not refer to the post-legislative scrutiny process. It arrived on the back of no committee report, no government statement, no ministerial interview. The government guidance on post-legislative scrutiny suggests that Committee findings should not be pre-judged, or pre-empted

The Committee’s report would contain such observations and conclusions about the implementation and operation of the Act as the committee thought fit. These would be directed towards Government, which would be expected to respond in the normal way

Yet, if Allegra Stratton’s sources are reliable, it looks like someone in government has already made up their mind, and wants to get that message out.

The Prime Minister recently spoke about FOI at the Commons Liaison Committee, and some of that oral evidence was shown in the Newsnight report. He contrasted FOIA unfavourably with pro-active disclosure of information under the government’s Transparency agenda (on this subject, Tim Turner’s post here is essential reading), and said that

Making government more transparent is the best thing

No one would argue with that, although as the saveFOI campaign has previously said, FOI and the Transparency agenda are two cogs in the same machine, not options to be chosen between.

Any proposal to charge for making FOI requests would be a huge (and in my view, detrimental) change to one of our most important civic rights, and transparency surely dictates that such a proposal should be discussed openly, so that pros and cons can be given equal space? Selective, non-transparent disclosure of proposals enables those supporting them to give only such information which supports their cause. It enables them to set the agenda, get the right headlines and draw the opposition’s sting. It is not a transparent process, and I would hope that all people, including politicians, who support the Transparency agenda, would oppose it.

Decisions about the future of FOI cannot be allowed to take place behind the closed doors of government.

*By the way, if Allegra’s reading this – please wear a seatbelt when you’re in the back of a taxi. It’s an offence not to, and, more importantly, it’s really dangerous .

Jonathan Baines works in local government. He blogs at informationrightsandwrongs and tweets as @bainesy1969

Breaking News on FOI Charges

The BBC’s Newsnight tonight reported that the Government is planning to introduce charges for FOI requests, perhaps involving a “range of tariffs”. At this stage we have no further details.

SaveFOI is obviously very concerned by this development, which appears to pre-judge the outcome of the ongoing post-legislative scrutiny of the Act being carried out by the Justice Select Committee. Charging for FOI requests would drastically curtail the ability of ordinary people as well as charities, journalists, businesses and others to hold public bodies to account. This seems a particularly strange move for a Government whose Prime Minister has said “We want to be the most open and transparent government in the world.”

If you would like to register your concern over this proposal, please read how you can help, and do sign our e-petition at 

FOI Can Make You Money!

A guest post from Ibrahim Hasan

Many public authorities have expressed concerns about the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOI) being “abused” by the private sector. They have cited examples of information requests where they are effectively asked to do unpaid research or to supply facts, figures and statistics, which are then repackaged and sold on for profit with little return for the authorities. Many have taken the opportunity to present evidence to the Justice Select Committee  about the cost of dealing with FOI requests. Although some of the figures cited are somewhat dubious, there seems to be groundswell of opinion that the price of openness and transparency is too high. But how many of the same public authorities have considered the forthcoming changes to the FOI regime which may well assist in defraying some of the costs?

The Protection of Freedoms Bill will provide an opportunity for public authorities to raise much-needed revenue from the licensing of some information released pursuant to FOI requests. The Bill is currently proceeding through the final stage in Parliament, strangely termed “Ping Pong”.

Clause 102 of the Bill will amend FOI to require all public authorities when releasing datasets (raw unprocessed data) pursuant to an FOI request, to do so in a re usable electronic format. Where such datasets contain copyright work (owned by the authority), they must make that copyright work available for re use in accordance with the terms of a specified license. Finally once datasets are disclosed under FOI, they must also be published together with any updated versions. (For a full discussion of the proposals see my article here)

As far as disclosures of normal datasets go (i.e. those not containing copyright work) the usual FOI charging provisions will apply as set out in Section 12 and the Freedom of Information and Data Protection (Appropriate Limit and Fees) Regulations 2004. This means that public authorities will only be able to charge photocopying, postage and any disbursements.

So what’s new (I hear you ask)? The Bill is going to create an additional burden without additional money! This is true in relation to the mere disclosure of datasets. However when it comes to allowing a requestor to re use a released datasets containing copyright work (owned by the authority) there is an opportunity to charge more.

A new Section 11A(4) will be added to FOI by the Bill. This states that nothing prevents a public authority “from exercising any power that
it has by or under an enactment other than this Act to charge a fee in connection with making the relevant copyright work available for re use.” This means that if there are any other regulations or statute which allow a public authority to charge for re use of copyright material contained in a dataset, then FOI cannot be used by the requestor to obtain free permission to re use the same. Note though that this only covers re use of the material not disclosure of it. Access to the dataset is still covered by FOI and the Fees Regulations (discussed above).

A new Section 11B of FOI also allows for regulations to be made to make provision about the charging of fees by public authorities in connection with making copyright material in datasets available for re use. Section 11B(2) states that these regulations may:

(a) prescribe cases in which fees may, or may not, be charged,

(b)  prescribe the amount of any fee payable or provide for any such amount to be determined in such manner as may be prescribed,

(c)  prescribe, or otherwise provide for, times at which fees, or parts 
of fees, are payable,

(d)  require the provision of information about the manner in which amounts of fees are determined, 10

(e)  make different provision for different purposes.

Section 11B(3) also allows for the possibility of public authorities making a profit from charging for re use of datasets which include copyright material:

(3)  Regulations under this section may, in prescribing the amount of any
fee payable or providing for any such amount to be determined in such manner as may be prescribed, provide for a reasonable return on investment. (my emphasis)

These new provisions are a significant departure from the normal FOI charging principles as discussed above.  They were added as amendments to the Bill during its passage through Parliament in what seems to be an attempt to lighten the burden on public authorities who receive FOI requests from businesses who may want to re use copyright material.

The Bill seems to duplicate the Re-use of Public Sector Information Regulations 2005, which came into force on 1st July 2005. The aim of these Regulations is to encourage the re use of public sector information by removing obstacles that stand in the way of re use. It requires those bodies covered by it to consider requests for re use fairly and to impose fair and transparent conditions on re use. The Regulations are rarely invoked by businesses seeking information from public authorities.

The main problems with the Regulations are they do not impose an obligation to allow re use, do not have a binding enforcement mechanism and do not apply to some organisations e.g. universities and cultural establishments. The amended FOI provisions relating to datasets, to be introduced by the Bill, will apply to all public authorities, will be obligatory and will be enforced by the Information Commissioner.  Therefore there is a much greater chance that they will be used to their full effect by both public authorities and the private sector.

Much of the detail will be contained in a new Section 45 Code of Practice. Much depends on how the Government defines “reasonable return of investment” i.e. how much profit can be made. Certainly the potential is there for canny public authorities to raise some much needed revenue from the licensing of datasets. Work needs to start now on identifying relevant datasets and raising awareness amongst stakeholder departments that “FOI can make you money!”


Ibrahim Hasan is a solicitor and director of Act Now Training ( Follow him on Twitter!/ActNowTraining

Fourth session of the Justice Committee announced

The Justice Committee has announced details of the its fourth evidence session in its post-legislative scrutiny of the Freedom of Information Act. Witnesses are

At 10.30am

  • Lord Hennessy of Nympsfield; and
  • Lord O’Donnell of Clapham

At 11.15am

  • Gordon Wanless, NHS Business Service Authority;
  • Sue Slipman, Foundation Trust Network;
  • Wyn Taylor, Liverpool Heart and Chest Hospital; and
  • Julian Brookes,  NHS South of England

On his blog FOIMan says “This promises to be quite a blockbuster…My prediction (for which I hardly need a crystal ball) is that FOI will receive a good going over next Tuesday”.

We’ll aim to be live-tweeting the session, as we have with all the previous ones. Follow us on twitter @saveFOI to see what happens.

Meanwhile, the uncorrected transcript of evidence from the third hearing of the Committee has been uploaded at

What They Knew

This extraordinary post by saveFOI cofounder FOIMonkey (@FOIMonkey) first appeared on the superb confirmordeny blog. It is reproduced here with permission.

Here are 366 Interesting things that we know because of FOI requests made using– one for every day of the leap year. This list focuses mainly on information released during the last six months. Our right to access information is about to come under attack from those who want to use the process of post-legislative scrutiny to weaken the Freedom of Information Act and we need to do all we can to defend it. As this shows, FOI works. Let’s keep it that way.

1) The name of every street in the country, from ‘B’ STATION ROAD to Zurich Gardens:

2) Who the members of the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) are:

3) A contract between Courtserve and the Ministry of Justice prevents courts from publishing their own lists online:

4) The Electoral Commission’s advice to councils on inspecting General Election expenses Electoral Commission’s frustrates inquiries by journalists’ by recommending that they are not allowed to take notes:

5) In 2009/10 the NHS spent £29 million pounds on chaplains:

6) In 2008/09 HMRC missed its target for handling benefit claims within 9 working days:

7) Exactly what the ICO said to TalkTalk when it warned them over tracking the browsing history of users who installed its anti-malware software.

8 ) The Government wasted millions of pounds setting up a sub-optimal cycle journey planner:

9) In 2010 some Child Benefit Clements were being advised that it would take up to 26 weeks to process their claims due to high volumes of complaints being received:

10) What the BBC thought the risks were of its move to Media City in Salford:

11) Waltham Forest Council spent £7,000 on Olympic tickets:

12) The location of every Post Box in the country, with the collection times:

13) A list of all complaints that have been received by the electoral commission and the case outcomes. This showed for the first time that the Electoral Commission only took no action in 55% of cases where they had ruled that electoral law had been broken:

14) The Rules of the Boat Race:

15) How bus subsidy cuts are going to impact services across the country:

16) The real state of allotment provision and waiting lists across the UK:

17) What aspiring London cab drivers have to learn after TFL release a copy of the knowledge:

18) What the Chinese call senior Government officials:

19) GCHQ were concerned enough about interference from PLT home networking devices that they wrote to Ofcom about it:

20) Nottingham City Council raised thousands of pounds by adding google AdWords to their website:

21) The ins and outs of the Cross Thames Cable Car plan:

22) How east coast trains staff are trained before they can serve the public:

23) A list of all the pseudonyms used by Number 10 staff to write to members of the public:

24) How the Electoral Commission spent thousands of pounds on Government credit cards, including on models, chocolates, football shirts and “fruity Friday”

25) Lambeth Council spent £1072 producing a YouTube video on Swishing:

26) Southampton Council put trips to the London Dungeon on its credit cards:

27) How the ticketing settlement agreement governs how fare revenue is set and distributed between Train operating companies – even the government found that one useful:

28) What type of vehicles are licensed to operate as taxis in London:

29) How Leeds City council handled the consultation on Library Cuts after they released 77 pages of emails about it:

30) Where every parking ticket was issued in Derbyshire during the last 2.5 years:

31) The number of Sussex Police officers who were disciplined for improper use of the force Internet/data in 2009/10:

32) How the Foreign Office handles social media criticism, following the release of internal correspondence relating to former ambassador Frances Guy’s controversial blog about Sheikh Fadlallah that

33) What letters were sent by MPs to the Equality and Human Rights Commission:

34) What meeting minutes and reports can tell us about a 1999 fire at Royal Ordnance Speciality Metals, close to a depleted uranium store:

35) The hospitality register from Hillingdon Borough Council includes Wine, Lunches, event tickets and a free Ipod touch:

36) How many under 18′s were admitted for Alcohol poisoning and drug abuse at Ysbyty Glan Clwyd in 2011:

37) What an MOD report concluded on the alleged trafficking of human organs in Kosovo:

38) Kent County Council paid for trips to the Anomabu Beach Resort, Ghana, Canada, Sweden and Norway… plus one to Iceland to get their money back:


39) What the Cabinet Office was saying about the Open Source Advisory Panel:

40) TFL will spend £89.83 million this financial year funding 1,610 Metropolitan Police officer posts an what those posts are.

41) What assets are held by the Crown Estate

42) Of 11,988 people vetted by Greater Manchester Police before the Labour Party Autumn Conference 2010, 24 were rejected:

43) What undertakings were given by the Government to the IOC on security at the Olympic Games.

44) How many private police forces there are in the UK.

45) Brent Council spent money on flights with British Midland, Ryanair, EasyJet, Aer Lingus, Lufthansa and Virgin Atlantic and a stay at the Morgans Harbour Hotel in Jamaica:

46) How much the recent military action in Libya cost as well as what munitions were used by British forces:

47) What health and safety manuals aregiven to prison officers:

48) Birmingham City Council spent over £50,000 in 2009 on bottled water.

49) How much the court Post Office costs the tax payer

50) The five most expensive wines currently in stock in the Government Hospitality cellar

51) How safe TFL thinks Blackfriars Bridge is for London cyclists

52) What the forms look like that the police will send to you if they think there is a credible threat to your life:

53) How many people entered the UK on transfer agreements to work for less than minimum wage

54) The Metropolitan Police made £11,450 from selling CCTV footage to media companies in 2010/11:

55) What the ICO discovered when it carrie out a Data Protection Audit into NHS24:

56) Sussex Coast College were attempting charge a £75 flat fee for answering FOI requests:

57) Racist incidents occurred in 48% of schools in Essex 09/10 with Teachers & Governors among the perpetrators

58) How many UK properties that have an entry on the land register in respect of a liability to repair the chancel.

59) The Police uncovered and subsequently closed down 16 “drug factories” in Swindon during 2009.


60) Shop keepers who want to sell Oyster Cards have to pass a proficiency test and what training they are given:

61) What guidance is given by HMCTS to County Court Bailiffs, Civilian Enforcement Officers and Tipstaff:

62) The Cost of Council Tax enforcement in Brighton, and how many are of summonsed for non payment:


63) Why the Metropolitan Police choose the codenames Weeting and Elevendon for their Phone hacking investigation:

64) The location and opening hours of every public toilet in Coventry:

65) What our ambassadors to France and China put in their Valedictory dispatches:


66) The cost of trips taken by the Department of Transport’s departmental security officer including to a South African holiday resort:

67) How many times unauthorised PNC checks were made or other police data was wrongly disclosed by officers of Greater Manchester Police:

68) Detailed statistics on the level of knife crime in London:

69) How many people have been arrested by Civil Nuclear Constabulary:

70) The criteria that TfL use when reporting delays:


71) How much Oil is kept in reserve by the Government:

72) Derby City Council officials took a trip to Berlin to lobby Bombardier to save UK jobs:

73) There are 5,300 non-doms in the United Kingdom;

74) How Centro decide which buses stop where. They allow a maximum of 12 per hour per stop:

75) Croydon Council spent £7,186,393.82 on consultants in 2010/11:

76) What was said durig some GMC fitness to practice hearings:

77) Hate Crime reporting and conviction statistics from West Midlands police:

78) What the RAF thought when 7 unauthorised civilian aircraft arrived unannounced at an RAF base:

79) 86% of DPA cases being handled by the ICO in July 2011 were self-reported breaches of the act:

80) The location and incident type of all fire brigade call outs in Lichfield from 2008 – 2011:

81) EU procurement law means that the UK Government can’t go 100% fairtrade:

82) A list of all primary schools with more than 400 pupils on their roll:

83) London buses accept £5 Coins after The Big Red Book of guidance for all London drivers was released by TfL:

84) Details of proposed changes to the level of air support available to Cambridgeshire Police:

85) Usage data for each and every stop on the Croydon Tramlink

86) The Child Support Agency spend £68,804 on taxi fares to transport staff to and from work

87) How changes to the the delay-repay passenger compensation scheme were decided:

88) Traffic cones cost £11 each and the Highways Agency has 3,900 of them:

89) Chris Huhne MP was breaching the Data Protection Act:

90) Greater Manchester Police spent £379,015 on payments to informants in the 2009/10 financial year:

91) What exactly is on the national register of cranes:

92) How Kent police policed polling stations at the last general election:

93) Andy Coulson was vetted by FCO services prior to working at Number 10:

94) What NHS Direct staff really though of their empoyer:

95) What wine stocks are held by Liverpool University:

96) Information regarding the resignation of Assistant Commissioner John Yates:

97) The Governments  ePetition website cost £80,700 to build and will cost £32,000 a year to run

98) How much it cost the taxpayer to fund language classes taken by MPs, and who took which class:

99) Westminster is the most expensive London borough to police:


100) What the operations handbook for the Cambridge guided bus way tells drivers do in an emergency:

101) Contraband tobacco products seized by  UKBA are used as fuel at a Power Station in Slough:

102) TFL refunded passengers £1,062,865.26  in 12 months to September 2011 due to faulty Oyster card readers:

103) Which postcodes qualify for industrial development assistance from the Government:

104) Oil pollution emergency plans for various drill sites:

105) The basic wage of a government driver is £29,532.30:

106) The Welsh Assembley Government spent £3387 in 4 months flying members between North and South Wales:

107) The second most common reason for delays to patient transfers at Wirral PCT was “public funding”.

108) How reliable the TfL cycle hire scheme is:

109) How many TASER complaints were received by the IPCC

110) How many Hampshire Police Officers disobeyed orders

111) Google wrote to the DCMS to express concern about the way the Government has implemented EU cookie law, warning that UK risks throwing away its competitive advantage if the Government doesn’t reconsider changes.

112) Bandwidth diagnostic data for BBC I-player, broken down by ISP:

113) University of Leeds fears a reduction in Postgraduate numbers from 2015 due to increased debt caused by higher fees:

114) Over 3 years, there were 1194 collisions involving Metropolitan Police Vehicles where injuries occurred, and 3 which resulted in fatalities:

115) Which projects received funding as part of the Arab partnership program:

116) The post-riots sentencing Guidelines from the MOJ:

117)  BBC have a contract with Berghaus for exclusive production of its protective clothing worn onscreen:

118) What happened when the 999 system failed in North Wales:

119) Who the 215 Peers are who had their expenses claims queried in 08/09

120) Northamptonshire County council have an office in Brussels:

121) What the Royal Navy wrote about the sinking of a British aircraft carrier during WWII:

122) Internal guidance on back to work/In work credits from the DWP

123) A tax break for the royals and the Queens plan to let Prince William start to take over her engagements:

124) The Metropolitan Police Diversity guide:

125) Details of 24 Hour Off licenses in London:

126) Equal opportunities monitoring data on all social workers by post town:

127) Treasury Solicitor’s Department guidance on handling vexatious litigants

128) 5 years worth of clinical/nonclinical incidents, complaints and litigation threats for 1 NHS trust:

129) Islington has byelaws in place regulating how loud a Gramophone can be played in a shop/public place.

130) Data on prescription levels for certain drugs

131) What is in the GLA’s Members’ Handbook:

132) Communications between DFID and the office of the Quartet representative.

133) Details about 154 tribunal cases involving Ikea

134) What type of FOI requests are treated as high risk by the metropolitan police: including all requests from pesky journalists:

135) What is in the ACPO public order training manual:

136) Correspondence  between the FCO and the Governor of St Helena:

137) A copy of the DLR working timetable:

138) The number of pupils permanently excluded from schools in East Sussex has more than doubled in 5 years

139) How much is spent on chartering flights to deport people from the UK

140) Merseyside Police broke their spy drone during training but didn’t replace it because of the cuts:

141) What training notes are given to ticket inspectors

142) The BBC paid £10,131,423 in car allowances to its staff over the last 3 financial years

143) At 31 August 2011, £608,910,827 of court fines were still outstanding:

144) User statistics for the new(ish) Police National Database:

145) IPS received 81 complaints in 2010/11 about passports & supporting docs being sent to the wrong address

146) Retained papers on the Kennedy Assassination were released to the national archives followig this request.

147) Serving Hampshire Police officers have convictions for ABH, Battery, fraud, Theft, poss. of an offensive weapon & more:

148) The coordinates and a map of exactly where the army fired depleted uranium ammunition around Basra during the Iraq war

149) Which ICO FOI decision notices that were appeaed to the information tribunal

150) 88,094 settlement applications were refused by UKBA over the past 11 years:

151) 653 Service personnel have been issued with epinephrine auto-injectors in case of anaphylactic shock

152) The Charity Commission receives a lot of dubious complaints about the RSPCA

153) What guidance was issued by the National Police Improvement Agency on the processing of digital images for evidential purposes

154) Statistics about Community Sentences broken down by force area:

155) How many lawyers are employed by each government department

156) How many deaths have occured at York hospital since 2001, broken down by cause of death

157) What the Ofcom report “Site Blocking” to reduce online copyright infringement has to say:

158) How many individuals are still entitled to drive despite having 12+ pts on their license, broken down by county & post town:

159) 713 attempts to deport people from the UK in 2011 were unsuccessful due to ‘disruptive behavior’:

160) What caused delays to Chemotherapy treatment at The Christie NHS Foundation Trust:

161) Of 7916 immigration appeals lodged with UKBA in June/August 2011, only 3% were successful:

162) How NHS trust train mental health staff on how to deal with aggressive patients:

163) What a sample control order looks like and details of some of the individuals subject to control orders:

164) 13% of primary school teachers in Essex are male and 38 schools have no male teachers at all:

165) If required Orange will provide emergency services details 999 calling phone/owner in 30 mins. Other operators take days:

166) Details of every Parking ticket issued in Lambeth since 2009:

167) A list of 46 MPs who were breaking the Data Protection Act in 2011

168) The average call waiting times for the Student Awards Agency for Scotland:

169) What UKBA had to say about the Zambrano judgement:

170) A report from Lothian and borders showed that the “oil spill” that Climate camp were blamed for wasn’t even oil

171) How many children taken into care by the Northern Health and Social Care Trust:

172) Drink and drug driving arrest figures from Sussex Police

173) How many people people recalled to prison in Norfolk and Suffolk over the past 3 years:

174) The names of all UK employers who conduct CRB checks on their staff:

175) Bristol University spent £5000 on a Gorilla:

176) A MHRA inspection report identified deficiencies at Guys St Thomas NHS Trust Pharmacy manufacturing Unit

177) The removal of the M4 bus lane decreased peak journey times between J1 and J4 by more than 10 seconds:

178) The final report arising from the CReSt research study commissioned by QCDA evaluating the 11-19 reform programme

179) The terms of the DCMS funding agreement with the Football Foundation:

180) The Department of Health has contracts with Capita totaling £92,203,515:

181) Nottinghamshire Police drink drive statistics for 2008-2011

182) The BBC shows have got 254 iPads and 1151 iPhones

183) By November 2011, 14 people had been prosecuted for non-completion of a census return

184) In September 2011 PSNI seized £510,000 in cash from a visitor to Maghaberry Prison

185) Police Handcuffs cost £16.95 and kitting out a Male PC costs £8.76 more than kitting out a female PC:

186) The terms of reference of Operation Weeting:

187) Less than a third of those accredited to attend the Lib Dem autumn conference were grass roots party members:

188) How much it cost Plymouth Council to host the America’s Cup

189) Between January 2009 & 30 September 2011 Prison Officers at HMP Preston seized 11 Cannabis plants:

190) The ICO risk register says there is a high risk of FOI casework suffering due to budget cuts

191) The location of CCTV Cameras in Coventry:

192) What animals are being kept in Zoos in Pembrokeshire:

193) The location of defective & non-standard construction properties in Leeds:

194) Ten primary schools in West Sussex do not employ any male teachers:

195) The amount spent by Staffordshire Police on defending employment tribunal claims

196) Since the start of the scheme there have been 81 accidents involving Barclay’s Cycle Hire customers (Nov 2011)

197) The number of redundancy notices  issued in Nov 2011 to RAF service personnel:

198) Between 2007 and 2010 Sussex Police arrested 46 people under the Animal Welfare Act 2006

199) Unemployment statistics for Leicester, broken down by ward

200) What conditions the Bank of England imposed on a toy company who wanted to print money:

201) The results of the latest well being survey of headteachers on the Isle of Wight:

202) The IPCC received 24 complaints about policing during the recent riots:

203) Copies of charity Commission inquiry reports published prior to 2005:

204) Scottish Prison Service information on prison officers’ second jobs:

205) Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal  statistics about domestic violence related prosecutions in Scotland:

206) Since 2008 Surrey police have spent £651,116 on obtaining copies of mobile phone records

207) The Gambling Commission have released the record of the hearing where Health lottery was granted an operating licence:

208) How many student at Southampton Solent University were caught cheating during the last 5 years:

209) Last year West Lothian Council spent £500,000 on snow clearing/gritting at local schools, over 8x the normal spend:

210) Data on inpatient an outpatient suicides at South West London and St George’s Mental Health Trust:

211) IPCC releases details of dispensations requested/granted to police forces allowing them not to investigate complaints:

212) Newcastle University have collected £170,375 in library fines over the last two years:

213) From 1 October 2009 to 30 Sep 2011, 10 civilian MOD employees received prison sentences, of which 6 were fired:

214) Details of attacks on firefighters in Dumfries and Galloway during 2011

215) The minutes/agendas of meetings of the Independent advisory group on sexual health and HIV:

216) South Wales Police release info on the number of people stopped for driving without a valid license

217) Details of the number of homes demolished by Leeds City Council as well as the costs of acquisition/demolition:

218) Horley Town Council plans to introduce its own currency

219) Average crown court waiting times by case type, gender and ethnicity from the MOJ

220) Longfield Acadamy spends circa £20K a year on marketing and PR

221) 25 people were refused accreditation to attend the 2011 labour party conference following police checks:

222) 23,019 people are on the waiting list for social housing in Camden and on average they’ll wait 4 years to be housed

223) Nottingham City Council appear to have spent £740 on changing the tram signs to include the word “only”:

224) Since March 2011 7550 drivers have been issued with PCNs after being caught just one bus lane camera in Hounslow:

225) During the last 3 years, Southend Borough Council has spent £1,728,020.94 on maintaining its CCTV system:

226) Details of the proposed changes to the award criteria for medals granted to cadet force volunteers

227) South Wales Fire Service have attended 71 cat/kitten rescue incidents in 2011

228) Between Jan and Sep 2011 Westminster City Council received 401 complaints about its civil enforcement officers:

229) Between March and October 2011 there were 80 stabbings in Camden and 240 other crimes involving knives:

230) East London NHS Trust : there have been 190 suspected suicides amongst patients during in the last 10 years:

231) The terms of Reference and some other details about operations Elvenden and Tuleta

232) The location of active road studs that have the potential to cause problems for epileptics:

233) The Civil Service Code:

234) London Councils estimates that the switch to the 5 year freedom pass will save £1.3 Million

235) Firefighters from Central Scotland Fire & Rescue Service were shot at when reponding to a call out:

236) Companies House were involved in a dispute between the college of social work and the college of social workers:

237) In 2011, Bradford City spent £750 on elves

238) Met Police no longer know why people were “contained” in Trafalgar square on 26 March this year:

239) Greater Manchester Police release details of the numbers of officers disciplined for racist or homophobic misconduct:

240) The House of Commons have released the style guidelines for preparing Select Committee reports:

241) How many company directors have been prosecuted under the Health and Safety at work act during the last decade:

242) The locations of 244 council controlled CCTV cameras in Leeds:

243) Liverpool City Council have spent £942K on Christmas lights during the past 5 years:

244) What the HSE had to say to BP about the safety of its offshore drilling platforms:

245) How many times pedestrians have been hit by buses in Camden since 2009:

246) What injuries were sustained by London’s firefighters since 01/01/2008:

247) Serco’s Boris Bike “critical improvement plan” revealed catalogue of problems:

248) How many GLA meetings were made inquorate in 2011 by assembly members walking out

249) The radiation levels on Christmas Island following UK nuclear tests:

250) What responses were received by TFL in response to the recent Private Hire consultation

251) The UKTI techcity website cost £53,000 to build

252) ICO release correspondence from Barnet Council about their DPA complaint against blogger @_MrMustard:

253) Copies of certificates of authorisation for 57 constituencies at the 2010 general election:

254) Details of all thefts on the railway during 2011. From cheese & beer to cable & a ticket machine:

255) Copies of documentation relating to the disclaimer of peerages

256) Since April 2009, 40,102 books have disappeared from Kent libraries

257) On the day that HS2 gets the go-ahead the DfT have revealed that the public consultation has cost £3.6 Million so far

258) The University of Manchester is spending over £1/4m on iPads for Medical students:

259) The make and model of all mobile phones owed by Bolton Council, and what they spent on calls:

260) What methodology was used by the treasury to estimate the cost of the recent Public Sector strikes

261) The location of every litter bin in Kensington and Chelsea. There are now a 1/3 less bins than in 2005:

262) Over 300 serving Met officers have criminal convictions.

263) What the official secrets act form signed by new MOD employees looks like:

264) What items were stolen from churches in Strathclyde over the last 12 months:

265) A copy of the Conservative Party constitution, usual price £10

266) Highland Council’s explaination as to how & why they treat FOI requests made by journalists differently to those made by the public:

267) During the past 5 years over half of all fires in North Wales were smoking related

268) How many former MOD employees have gone on to work for BAE systems :

269) Royal Mail ignore “no leaflets” signs on letter boxes; but have official opt-out system:

270) What blue plaques have been placed on buildings in Manchester

271) There have been 16 data protection breaches at the Student Loans Company over the last five years:

272) A Council accepted gift of chocolate, wine & flowers from planning applicant, but refuses to identify the donor:

273) 0.47% of post sent via Royal Mail has had the incorrect postage put on in

274) The highest paid employee of Brighton & Hove City Council earns £170,000 while the lowest paid earns £9,800:

275) Even the ICO suffered from security breaches and data losses:

276) What byelaws are currently in force in Bradford:

277) Slides and speakers notes for ICO presentations made since October 2009

278) Met. police received & used 1 photo taken by the public to help identify rioters. 5111 photos were released in total

279) Since 2007, 19 officers have worked for @cambscops whilst having criminal convictions, including for ABH, theft & arson

280) The number of engineers & the maintenance cost involved in keeping the Red Arrows in the air

281)How ICO has attempted to comply with the cookie rules that they are tasked with enforcing:

282) Just 5 people wrote to West Yorks. PTE to complain about fare rises:

283) The ticketing information guides provided to TFL Ticket Inspectors:

284) Heavily redacted FCO documents about Vojislav Seselj who is currently on trial at the Hague:

285) How the ICO review their polices following information tribunal cases

286) ACPO guidance on the the management of evidential material:

287) 225,000 emails have been sent to the PM via the number 10 website since the PM took office:

288) 229 people were convicted of offences connected to sham marriages during 2011:

289) Details of flaring by Shell/Exxon at the Mossmoran Chemical plant

290) The template letters used by Passenger Focus to respond to the public

291) Details of Westminster City Council’s deal with O2 to provide WiFi across the borough

292) A report from Ernst and Young identifying how Bedford Hospital NHS trust hope to save £9.94 million

293) Issues with Newham Council’s CCTV system left them unable monitor Newham’s rds “Not only are we losing out a huge amount of income but more importantly we are not able to monitor the newham roads

294) The miistry of Justice spends thousands of pounds a year on a Parliamentary directories

295) Which ICO staff are ISEB qualified

296) 799 couples who got married in Vegas filed for divorce in 2010:

297) What the Electoral Commission said in letters sent to eBay about General Election votes being up for sale online:

298) Shifnal town council in Shropshire spent £954 on fixing the Mayoral Chain

299) Which MPs have been disqualified from 1900 onwards:

300) The redevelopment agreement signed with Langtree Artisan for the Bradford Odeon site:

301) A list of all domain names:

302) Over the past decade, Kent police have issued 7723 fixed penalty notices for having illegal number plates:

303) The Department of Transport spent £108,975 on developing their current website & spend circa £6500/month on hosting it:

304) What the Tate was saying internally about BP’s sponsorship:

305) The location and contact details for every Surestart centre in the country:

306) How much the House of Lords spends on Vellum per anum:

307) The software code for air transport models

308) Handbook on facilities and services for Members of the house of commons

309) The text of letters sent to those who received honours:

310) Certificates confirming that London synagogues can conduct marriage ceremonies

311) What the seal on UK diplomatic bags looks like

321) Copies of Royal Warrants granting courtesy titles to supreme court justices

313) Copies of extradition certficates

314) Copies of minutes of the Electoral Commission’s executive team

315) Eight years worth of authorisations made under s44 of the Prevention of Terrorism Act

316) Information on grant partnership grants awarded by the Electoral Commission:

317) A copy of the accounts for the short lived office of the E-envoy

318) Permitted discharge notices from the Department of Energy and Climate Change

319) The amount spent on by the Science and Technology Facilities Council on rehiring staff that were previously made redundant:

320) A copy of the certificate that designated Tzipi Livini’s visit to the UK a special mission and prevented her arrest.

321) A copy of the Speakers Brief, that aids the lords speaker in dealing with the issues of the day

322) Correspondence between WhatDoTheyKnow and the department of education.

323) A Copy of the permission note given to “The Bill” to dress its actors in real metropolitan police uniforms

324)  Details of SOCPA authorised demonstrations in the vicinity of Parliament

325) Treasury Guidance on Civil Service Grading

326) Who is eligible to use the Royal suite at Heathrow Airport:

327) Details of those provided with financial assistance to repatriate themselves when they are in danger of being forced into marriage:

328) The Guidelines used to ensure that Cabinet Meetings are Properly minuted:

329) A copy of the letter sent by the EDL to request that councils call Christmas Christmas

330) A copy of a prison service email warning offenders of the dangers of stating where they live or talking about gang affilliations whilst in prison.

331) Details of what support was made available to British Nationals who were evacuated from Libya

332) how the “Diamond Jubilee Unit” was created

333) 32 Copies of inHouse Magazine – produced by the House of Lords

334) Copy of permissions granted by the Commons Authorities that allowed Democracy Live to be launched

335) Data on the number of doubtful ballots cast at various elections

336) What Google and the ICO had to say about Google streetview:

337) What complaints made against Sheffield Taxi Drivers

338) The costs of refurbishing the British Embassy in Washington

339) Statistics from the Foreign office about people who go missing while abroad

340) Arrest statistics from Brits. on Holiday in Teneriffe

341) In the 2009-10 Financial year the FCO spent £24.8 Million on School fees

342) The amount of money seized by each UK Police force from criminals:

343) Details of meetings between the Home Office and Phorm

344) Correspondence on the classification of the Olympic Starting pistol as an offensive weapon

345) Highways Agency correspondence on the reduction of motorway litter

346) TfL Statistics on the number of pedestrian killed by collisions with buses since 2006

347) Details of the University of Oxford’s letter to the government epressing no confidence in the Education minister

348) A Study on Iraq Invasion by Lt Gen Chris Brown commissioned by the Ministry of Defence

349) Correspondence between Dick Fedorcio and Guto Hari on the arrest of Damian Green

350) A long running public bill committee cost £10,741.12

351) Information about the dedication of a memorial wall in Basra

352) An index to the parliamentary internet:

353) A copy of the letter sent to the Audit Commission on Fortnightly bin collections

354) TV Licensing contacts held by Capita released by the BBC

355) Internal audit reports from the Olympic Development Agency

356) Details of valid appeals under the Civil Service Code

357) Police logs on the protests on the Olympic Torch route before the Beijing Olympics

358) DWP guidance  and information about their Customer Compliance Department

359) What fines have been issued to students at Reading University for bad behaviour in halls:

360) Cardiff Council spent £2,158,696 on Microsoft Office licenses

361) Details of all the gifts and hospitality recieved by Ofcom

363) The DfT spends far more on PR and marketing than it spends on  FOI:

364) The number of times that the Royal Mail has threatened Legal Action for use of Postcode Data:

365) The business case for opening up various government datasets

366) What merchandise is for sale in the Downing Street Gift Shop:

David Cameron is right to be irritated with FOI!

A guest post by Lawrence Serewicz

The Freedom of Information Act has been attacked because of its apparent cost and the inconvenience it creates for organisations. David Cameron has expressed his concern over the FOIA requests that are all about the process. David Cameron is right requests under the Act do ask a lot of questions about the political process.  As a political leader, he wants to have the freedom to act without scrutiny.  As the Act creates a burden on the government machinery, it can also chill the government’s thinking.  A request under FOIA has an effect that is as bad as a politically motivated leak.

In his criticism David Cameron revealed more about himself than he intended.  As the Leveson Inquiry slowly grinds through the issues, the political process is revealed. We can now see the intersection between press, politicians, and the police. If FOIA had been in force 25 years ago, would we have had to wait so long to for Daniel Morgan’s death to receive the full attention it is now receiving?

What irritates David Cameron is exactly the reason why we need to strengthen and increase the power of the FOIA. The Act does reveal the “secrets” of the political process. Unlike the deep secrets like nuclear codes that protect the state, the “secrets” that it reveals are those hidden by an opaque political process.  The power of FOIA is that keeps politicians and organisations form being anonymous or hidden.  The politicians and bureaucrats do not hide in secrets; they hide in the political process.  What the FOIA reveals is not secrets, but the process and the overall political context.  If you do not know what the politician is doing, then they are hidden, and, therefore, unaccountable. If you know them only by their deeds, then the democratic process is weakened. Democracy is weakened when the people cannot influence the process or thinking that create the deed.

A second reason why David Cameron is right to be irritated with the Act is that it works. The Act allows us to exercise our democratic rights. When we hold a politician to account, we are exercising our democratic rights. What we show with that FOIA request is that the politician or organisation is answerable to the public. What the Act does is rebalance the relationship between the citizen and the state.

The challenge within a democracy, especially with a strong bureaucracy, is to get beyond the surface of an organisation to see how it works. The politically powerful can be seen all the time and they present themselves as they want the public to see them.  What FOIA does is allow the public to peer behind the curtain, to see them, if only for the moment, as they are.

Freedom of Information is more than government transparency. In the transparency agenda, the government is producing the information that it wants to disclose in the way it wants it disclosed. By contrast, the FOIA process is uncertain and democratic; it cannot be managed or packaged.  The public will ask what they want to know, not what the politician or the organisation wants to tell them. A question may be drivel, yet that drivel is democracy.  Why?  The question itself, and the fact that the organisation has to respond, is sign that the democratic political process works.  The applicant is acting to hold the organisation to account if only for it to comply with the FOIA.

Some critics argue that FOIA chills political discussions. Yet, this distorts the power and purpose of the FOIA.  The process to respond to an FOIA request is a rather dull one because the information requested is already created.  The information is static.  As a result, the organisation will be able to prepare itself for the disclosure or delay its disclosure to reduce any political effect. For example, the use of FOIA to obtain the Cabinet Minutes took years to get to the point of disclosure. Then they were withheld by Ministerial Veto.  Any political effect from the disclosure is only as an echo of original decision.  To put it differently but directly, by the time a request and a response get through the bureaucratic machinery, it is a known and managed political commodity.

The less access to information there is, the greater the reliance on leaks to obtain or disclose information. In contrast to the FOIA’s rather bureaucratic and stolid process political leaking by politicians or civil servants is dynamic and dangerous.  The leaks are not known, unless part of a political manoeuvre, so they cannot be managed.  They often present information out of context or in a raw form.  Ideas may be uninformed and speculative.  What we find is that the information is usually disclosed by politically motivated leakers such as politicians either protecting or savaging reputations.  Yet, they do not often serve the public interest so much as their own interest.

Lawrence Serewicz is Principal Information Management Officer at a local authority, blogs at and tweets as @lldzne