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Monday, October 25, 2021

UK Government embraces opacity

The Guardian highlights a growing trend in the UK Government to block and delay freedom of information requests, leading to accusations that they are waging a secret war against transparency.

They say that in a report published on Monday, the investigative journalism website openDemocracy alleged that last year was the worst year for transparency since the Freedom of Information Act came into force in 2005:

It highlighted the government’s own figures that show that in 2020, 41% of freedom of information requests by the public to central government departments were granted in full. Government statisticians acknowledge that “this is the lowest figure since recording started in 2005”.

The Cabinet Office, which is responsible for freedom of information, dismissed the report as “complete nonsense” and showing “a total misunderstanding” of the act. It said the Covid pandemic had left fewer resources available to answer freedom of information requests from the public.

However, an analysis of the government’s annual reports on the Freedom of Information Act shows a consistent fall in the number of requests being granted in full over the last decade. This is also acknowledged by government statisticians who describe what they call either a “downward” or “decreasing” trend.

The Cabinet Office disputed whether this measurement was an accurate way of assessing the level of transparency within Whitehall, arguing that some requests would always be rejected in full because they concerned sensitive areas such as the working of cabinet committees.

The government's excuses are not washing with campaigners, however:

OpenDemocracy’s report accuses the government of exploiting a series of loopholes to delay the public’s access to information, or stonewalling requesters by failing to answer.

Public bodies are entitled to request more time to consider whether to release information. But openDemocracy said evidence suggested that this was often used simply to delay responses to sensitive requests.

OpenDemocracy also said emails had shown that political advisers working for ministers were vetting requests before decisions were made on whether to release information.

Yet another worrying trend from this increasingly authoritarian government.
Latest.I hear that cchq has an organisation/representative to spy on LibDem activity in blue wall seats with small majorities (LibDem Cllr on twitter).Opacity? He says all they have to do is contact him on his page if they want to know anything.
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