Assemblies exempt from FoI Act

The Government has been urged to close a loophole which means
unelected regional assemblies are exempt from the new Freedom of
Information Act.

Kent Messenger political editor Paul Francis has
asked Constitutional Affairs minister Lord Falconer why these
assemblies are not among the 100,000 public bodies covered by the act.

He
is particularly concerned about the South East England Regional
Assembly which, though unelected, has much influence over regional
planning and strategic development issues.

In a letter to
Falconer, Francis said: Five leading science journals will receive
funding to switch to an online “open access” model, in a blow to
traditional publishers.

The Government-financed Joint Information
Systems Committee (JISC) allocated a first round of funding last year,
and is now expanding the programme to include a £150,000 total grant to
the New Journal of Physics , Nucleic Acids Research , the Journal of
Medical Genetics , the journals of the International Union of
Crystallography, and the Journal of Experimental Botany .

Libraries
are increasingly unable to afford subscriptions to journals, so under
the new model, the author (or funders) of the article pay for
publication, which is then free to all readers.

Reed Elsevier,
one of the sector’s leading traditional publishers, has dismissed the
“open access” model as commercially unviable and a threat to standards.

But
Lorraine Estelle, JISC collections team manager, said: “The first round
of this programme has been a significant success, giving us some
much-needed evidence of the potential of open access to stimulate
research and to make visible the outputs of researchers in the UK.

“We look forward to the further success of this programme.”

“To its credit, SEERA does appear to have an information policy that closely mirrors the provisions of the FOI Act.

“Nevertheless,
should they choose to, regional assemblies could turn down requests for
information from individuals or the media if they took the view that
such requests lay outside the scope of FOI. Equally, they could give no
reasons for doing so.

“These assemblies should, in my view, be among the public authorities that fall under FOI.

“They
are spending taxpayers’ money and are taking an increasingly
influential role in strategic issues such as housing, transport and the
environment.

“An example is their role in drawing up the new spatial strategies for the region.

“These
strategies include setting house-building targets for the area, an
issue of enormous public interest, especially in the south east, and a
role the assembly has taken from county councils.

“Given that the assemblies are strictly unelected, it seems even more important that they are captured by FOI.

“It
is rather perverse that the regional development agencies that
assemblies are supposed to hold to account are among the public bodies
that do fall under by FOI.”

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