The people in charge of Britain's town halls, public authorities and other local bodies have a much more sanguine view of the new freedom-of-information laws than the Government who enacted the legislation.
A report published by the Information Commissioner's Office has found that four out of five public authorities have a positive attitude towards the new right-to-know regime two years after its introduction. Eighty-three per cent of public authorities believe the Act has helped create a culture of greater openness in the public sector and 59 per cent of respondents agreed that freedom of information had reduced unnecessary secrecy. Over half of public authorities questioned said that since the Act was introduced they now publish more information as a matter of course.
This contrasts with recent government pronouncements on the freedom-of-information landscape, which paint a picture of hundreds of thousands of pounds of wasted public resources spent on answering journalists' requests made solely to embarrass ministers and provide lead stories in the newspaper.
The Department for Constitutional Affairs' own [pound]75,000 independent review of the Act's impact, written by the economic consultants Frontier Economics, highlighted the financial burden shouldered by local authorities and central government. It found that dealing with FOI requests was costing central government [pound]24.4m a year. Other public authorities covered by the Act - such as town halls - faced a total annual bill of [pound]11.1m. The average hourly cost of central government officials' time was [pound]34, it said.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton, the Lord Chancellor, used the report to justify proposing restrictions to the right-to-know laws, aimed at curtailing the disproportionate costs of dealing with the media's barrage of requests for information. Under the proposed changes an individual organisation will be limited …