FOI: Now even councils have to use it to get information from Government

On last week’s FOI Friday blog post, several of the the articles I highlighted had started life thanks for FOI requests made not by journalists but by councillors or MPs.

Now it’s not new that the Tories and the Lib Dems have been used FOI to get information out of Government, and then released it to the press for a good story.

But two stories caught my eye today which tell us quite a bit about access to information within Government itself.

Wrongly, it seems, I’d assumed that it was only those of us outside the corridors of power who struggled to get access to information.

According to the Lancashire Evening Post, Preston City Council is resorting to the Freedom of Information Act to find out why the Government said it would have to ‘call in’ a £700million project to regenerate part of the city centre.

To quote the LEP’s story:

They want to know what information was given to Secretary of State John Denham to result in the decision.

The authority’s chief says it is looking for assurances that there are no unknown attempts to “obstruct” the scheme.

At the same time, the Stoke Sentinel is reporting that a Labour councillor is also having to resort to the Freedom of Information Act to get information out of his authority because staff won’t give him the information he seeks.

One of the arguments used against journalists using the Freedom of Information Act is that it’s much easier for the council involved if the journalist just asks the press office for the information. Another is that the FOI process is expensive and therefore journalists are causing tax payers’ money to be spent in the pursuit of a story.

But if the wheels of local and central government are now so clogged that councils can only get government information by using FOI, and councillors resort to it to get information from their officers, what chance has a journalist of getting information other than by using FOI?

It may sound odd, but as a journalist who spent several years struggling to get information councils and government did want to release, it’s almost heartening to find out that it’s the same for those on the public pay roll too.

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