The BUAV and 75 other campaign groups, charities and press bodies have written to the prime minister urging him to drop proposals to restrict the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act. These proposals are not compatible with David Cameron’s stated aim of making the UK “the most open and transparent government in the world”.
The letter, which has been co-ordinated by the Campaign for Freedom of Information,coincides with an international summit on open government, hosted by the UK in London tomorrow (October 31). The event will be attended by government and civil society representatives from over 60 countries. Each government - including the UK - is expected to announce new commitments towards greater openness, drawn up in partnership with non-governmental organisations from their own countries.
However, in November 2012 the UK government announced that it was considering a series of proposals to make it easier for public authorities to refuse FOI requests on cost grounds. These proposals are still being considered.
The government says the changes are intended to address the “disproportionate burdens” caused by requesters who make “industrial use” of the FOI Act. But the 76 organisations say “the proposals would restrict access by all users, including those making occasional requests of modest scope.”
FOI requests can be refused if the cost of finding the requested information exceeds certain limits. The government says it is considering reducing these limits, which would lead to many more requests being refused.
The organisations also state: “We find it difficult to reconcile the commitment to become the world leader in openness with the government’s proposals to restrict the FOI Act, which is a critical element of the UK’s openness arrangements. Many requests of substantial public interest would be refused under these proposals regardless of the benefits of disclosure. We hope that the government will mark that commitment by announcing that it will not be bringing forward proposals to restrict the Act.”