The stricken bank Northen Rock may be open for business while in public ownership – but it’s not going to be open to Freedom of Information Act requests.
The BBC’s FOI expert Martin Rosenbaum points out that the emergency legislation to nationalise the bank (see article 18), currently winging its way through both Houses of Parliament, specifically states that the bank – unlike other nationalised firms like Royal Mail – will not be subject to the act.
In other words the taxpayer now underwrites the entire assets of the mortgage lender, some £100bn, but has no legal right to ask how the government is running what is effectively their bank.
Using the act, The Guardian has requested a copy of the Goldman Sachs report on the options facing the government on Northern Rock, but has so far been refused. The paper said the report was being prepared for released by the Treasury as early as this week.
Update: The Telegraph is reporting Tory shadow chancellor George Osborne’s reaction: “”The public is now paying for this bank, so we are entitled to know what it is doing with our money.
“It is completely unacceptable to exempt it from the Freedom of Information Act.”
Maurice Frankel of the Campaign for Freedom of Information, meanwhile, told the Telegraph: “There are plenty of safeguards to stop commercial decisions being compromised. This looks like a measure to limit the ability of people to obtain information.”