Building journalists oppose further FoI 'loopholes'

The editorial team at Building have backed Press Gazette's campaign against the Government's plans to dchange the Freedom of Information Act fees regime, saying that many loopholes already severely hamper their use of the FoI Act.

Editor Denise Chevin said: "I can't pretend we have got any hold-the-front-page stories out of it because there seem to be too many loopholes — the request is too broad or it will cost too much money, they can't supply you with that information or it's commercially sensitive information.

"There just seem to be so many reasons why they don't have to supply information, I think it's a bit of a law of diminishing returns at the moment."

Chevin said the Act had become increasingly difficult to use and there was a sense that companies had learned to work round it.

"We have heard companies say that in the public sector there's a ‘let's not write anything down' attitude because they don't want anyone finding out about it through FoI."

But the title has had some success with FoI. Former Building deputy editor Phil Clark — now digital community editor — said his most fruitful FoI request was made over the building contract for BBC's redevelopment of Broadcasting House in 2004.

Building managed to obtain the series of emails sent between the company that lost the scheme and the BBC director in charge of the decision, which revealed that the BBC offered to pay money to the losing bidder — a point Clark said was "in terms of the marketplace, very interesting".

Clark said: "It was unheard of at that point to get those kinds of documents. "It may have changed practice within the trade. It was certainly a real eye-opener within the industry."

On the proposed Government changes, Clark added: "It would be ridiculous once you have opened the gates to try to close them partially after that. I don't know if it's down to costs or whether they don't like what has come out.

"Certainly the things we revealed were massively in the public interest and I think helped the industry in a way.

"A lot of these aren't necessarily exposing scandals but offering a fresh insight into something, which is good."

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