Communities secretary Eric Pickles has appeared to pour cold water on the idea that councils could charge local newspapers for some Freedom of Information requests.
Pickles issued a statement yesterday indicating that local authorities should not charge journalists for answering straightforward FOI requests.
He said: “If town halls want to reduce the amount they spend on responding to freedom of information requests they should consider making the information freely available in the first place.
“The simple act of throwing open the books, rather than waiting for them to be prised apart by the force of an FoI, might even save a few pounds in the process.
“Ninety councils have already published details of day-to-day spending over £500 online.
“Those councils recognise that not only does the public have a legitimate right to see information about what their council spends and the decisions it makes, but that openness and transparency is absolutely critical to root out waste and inefficiency.
“Greater local accountability is essential to accompany the greater powers and freedoms that the new Government is giving to local government.”
Pickles’ statement comes after Hampshire County Council said it would ask the Local Government Association to petition the government about changing the FOI rules on what councils can charge after it spent £346,000 answering 707 requests last year.
The move brought instant condemnation from the executive director of the Society of Editors, Bob Satchwell, who called Hampshire County Council’s plan ‘ludicrous’as the information belonged to the public not the council.