what ministers want to do is to restrict any individual or organisation from asking more than four detailed questions a year – severely limiting the opportunity for the most socially active to get stuff from their local council or government department. The second, more subtle restriction aims to load extra costs against a £600 notional fee (£450 for local councils) – used as a cut-off point by bureaucrats to say it is too expensive to get the information. Basically, the new charges cover time spent reading the information to see if it can be released and time spent by ministers consulting with each other and lawyers on whether to release the information. As you can see, the more contentious the information requested, the less likely it is that it will now be released. And major advances in the release of information – such as the disclosures of the huge agricultural subsidies received by Tate and Lyle and the royals – would never have been released under these regulations. Nor would all the new details of MPs' expenses either.
Hencke urges his readers to respond to the consultation to express their views about this change.
The comments are pretty interesting. A couple of civil servants there (under the names BackOfTheNet and RobertPeel01) say that the Freedom of Information Act is a huge waste of time for civil servants. I just wanted to say that, as a civil servant myself, I don't agree with them: I am in favour of as much freedom of information as possible. The government and public servants should be accountable to the citizens (as voters as well as taxpayers) and the public is entitled to know what is being done in their name and with their money. Transparency also leads to better policy-making. The additional burden on civil servants is a small price to pay.