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Friday, July 05, 2013

Excuse of the week

Today's Western Mail reports the extraordinary behind-the-scenes shehanigans around a simple freedom of information request for background papers concerning the controversial Marcus Longley report into health service reconfiguration last year.

As the paper reports, last year Professor Longley was at the centre of a major political row when opposition politicians questioned the independence of his report. E-mails between Prof Longley, director of the Welsh Institute for Health and Social Care at the University of South Wales, and senior civil servants led to the allegation, hotly denied by the academic, that the Welsh Government had influenced the content of the report.

A further freedom of information request for draft versions of the report was rejected. That decision has now been overturned by the Information Commissioner. However, the reasons for the initial rejection do deserve pondering on.

The Western Mail say that it has emerged that in representations to the Commissioner, the Welsh Government argued a previous disclosure of e-mail correspondence had resulted in significant media and press interest and “necessitated the Minister being required to provide an oral statement to the Welsh Assembly and for her and other officials to be questioned by the National Assembly for Wales Health and Social Care Committee”.

This was said to have resulted in the diversion of resources to provide additional briefings and managing the media attention.

They add that the Welsh Government also argued that disclosure would be likely to have an impact on policy making and that it was essential for officials and Ministers to have a “safe space” to discuss live issues without being hindered by external comment and/or media involvement.

This nonsense excuse just underlines what many of us have suspected for some time. Welsh Ministers apparently think they are above the scrutiny process, resent being asked questions and do not like being held to account for their decisions by the media, fellow AMs or anybody else.

I think it is time to remind the Welsh Government that they are operating in a democracy and not a one-party state.
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