Justice CommitteeWritten evidence from Trevor Craig

As a library campaigner I have had call to use FOI quite regularly. I believe the act is a necessary safeguard. At local authority level the information that gets released when councils consult is always very limited and the little data that does get released has already been filtered and manipulated in such a way as to support the decision the council has put forward for “consultation”.

Public bodies should always seek to follow the best current available evidence when making policy, we know sadly that in politics this isn’t always the case and this is why it is important that in the interests of transparency and openness the FOI isn’t curtailed.

The strength of the act is of course its ability to allow members of the public (not journalists as is often peddled by politicians) to see what is being done with their money. The weakness is of course the cost. Sadly if councils, Whitehall, Quangos and the MOD etc were open and transparent the act wouldn’t be needed. I think the costs involved are a small price to pay to hold the people spending taxpayers money to account. Bad decisions are always made in secret.

There has also been anecdotal “evidence” that civil servants are terrified to write anything down in case it gets Foi’ed. This is clearly put out by politicians as they are terrified to be seen to be going against civil service advice. The anonymous civil servant is impartial and has nothing to fear from writing down their non-biased advice on a subject and this being made public.

I believe the FOI act is one of the greatest reforms our democracy has had in recent years, it is clear that those in the system want to see it curtailed as it sheds a light on bad government at all levels. Only in time when public bodies learn to be as transparent as the proclaim to be will we see usage of the act decrease. Further initiatives like the £500 spending data and the opengov schemes will help with this, the finances and decision making processes of all public bodies should be completely open, minuted, un-pivoted and available to be accessed by the people that pay for it. Otherwise bad policy will be made behind closed doors and the evidence will be ignored in favour of the lobby groups and other ideological special interests.

January 2012

Prepared 25th July 2012