Government is more secretive under Theresa May with Department for Exiting EU least likely to answer FoI requests

The Government is becoming more secretive under Theresa May, according to research into Freedom of Information Act responses.

The number of responses to FoI requests which government departments were refusing to answer was 41 per cent last year, up from 25 per cent in 2010, according to an analysis by the Institute for Government.

“Government is continuing to become more secretive under Prime Minister Theresa May, which is perhaps not surprising: while Theresa May was Home Secretary, the Home Office was one of the worst performers on FoI,” researcher Aron Cheung wrote.

The Department for Exiting the European Union – the DExEU – was among the worst offenders for withholding information. It answered 18 per cent of FoI requests in full in the last quarter of last year – the lowest rate for any government department.

Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and the Cabinet Office fully withheld information more than 50 per cent of the time – but the Wales Office responded in full to all 27 resolvable FoI requests it received, Mr Cheung noted.

He went on: “To withhold information, departments must apply one of the various exemptions under the FoI Act.

“The most frequently used exemption by departments is ‘Personal information’ – used especially often by DWP. DExEU, meanwhile, has used the ‘Future publication’ exemption (for information which is expected to be published in the future) most often.”

On the issue of the timescale during which requests were answered, Cheung said In the last quarter of 2016, four departments – Education, Business, Enterprise and Industrial Strategy, Justice and Communities and Local Government- failed to reach the Information Commissioner’s (ICO) 85 per cent target for responding to FoI requests on time.

The Department for Communities and Local Government was, as in the previous quarter, “by far the worst performer”, answering more than half (56 per cent) of its FoI requests late.

Campaign for Freedom of Information director Maurice Frankel told The Times: “The government is being more secretive.

“Whether that is the result of a deliberate policy to be less helpful or whether it is a result of experienced FoI officers leaving and being replaced by relatively untrained staff is an open question.”

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