A former colleague of mine, Larry Neild, ex-city editor of the Liverpool Daily Post, once showed me an FOI he’d either received or had handed to him by someone else.
It was seven pages long and the only bit you could read was the city crest at the top. The rest had been readacted. Seven big blocks of black, printed off and dispatched as an FOI response.
This week, however, redacting was taken to a whole new level, according to a story in the Brentwood Weekly News. Two Conservative councillors concerned about a major redevelopment project submitted an FOI request asking for details about the redevelopment.
The response – sent to two elected members of the council, voted into office to ensure they represent the views of those they serve – was 425 pages long. And entirely redacted.
Or as the Weekly News observed:
“The papers took Mr Quirk, councillor for Hutton North, an hour to print out and used up a whole black ink cartridge.”
Putting aside my wish to know what sort of black ink cartridge can print 425 pages, lets focus on the key observation from one of the councillors:
Mr Quirk said: “Receiving this document only heightens my concerns over the project.
“We were told by [council leader] Louise McKinlay earlier this year the revised deal would be done behind closed doors, something I objected to because this is too big a deal to be kept out of view.
“When you get a document like this though when you’re trying to find out more information, it just makes you think “what are they trying to hide?”.
“As our own MP Eric Pickles said, sunshine is the best disinfectant, and I think this applies here.”
If two councillors, who should have the right to see any document they wish as they seek to serve residents correctly, can’t get the information they need to hold the council to account, then what hope does a regular man in the street have?
As it happens, after the councillors protested, they did get some more information. But it doesn’t bode well does it?