Three months into the era of the Freedom of Information Act, and the first term’s report cards are in.
act, remember, was supposed to open up public bodies to a greater
degree of scrutiny and accountability. The new culture was to be one in
which disclosure was the order of the day. In which information would
only be withheld in the most sensitive of circumstances. In which
journalists and the public would simply have to ask and they would
promptly be granted access to the files they wanted.
So how do the departments score?
certainly a D minus for the Department of Trade and Industry, which
fully answered just 21 per cent of all requests made to it under the
act. And an E grade to the Foreign Office. Four-fifths of requests made
to it were not answered in full.
Top of the class, meanwhile, is
the Ministry of Defence, which not only received more than its fair
share of requests (1,843 in three months) but managed to answer an
impressive 67 per cent.
The overall figure for Whitehall
departments – 51 per cent – shows how much work there is still to do.
But the very fact that these figures are available, that this report
card exists at all, is something many journalists thought they would
never see. And that’s cause for at least some quiet celebration.
Could do better. Will do better.