Prescott plan aims to unlock council doors

By David Rose

Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott has opened the way for a breakthrough for editors who complain councils are denying them information.

The problem has been heightened by the replacement of committees with cabinets to run councils.

While some councils think the new system is working well, Prescott has received complaints that other councils are not developing a culture of openness.

Now Prescott has promised that editors’ concerns will be examined by a new review group which will include the Newspaper Society and the Campaign for Freedom of Information.

Advice will also be sought from the review group as to the best way of providing councils with advice to get them to be more open.

Announcing the move to MPs, local government minister Nick Raynsford said: “We want a system which promotes a culture of openness throughout councils which delivers accountability and transparency in decision making and equally guarantees the protection of information such as personal details where this is necessary.”

Raynsford added: “We believe that implementation of the Freedom of Information Act from January 2005 by councils will help create the culture of openness which some feel is lacking.”

The Government’s move follows a recent survey by the Society of Editors which registered concern among editors and council public relation officers about the way councils were responding to the new cabinet system.

Bob Satchwell, executive director of the Society of Editors, welcomed the Government’s announcement.

“There hasn’t been enough change in the culture,” he said. “Our experience is that this comes down to individual councils.

“If they are prepared to see the sense in improving openness in order to engage with the people they service, they can make progress. But there are those who find ways under the current legislation and guidelines to avoid this and in some cases they have moved backwards.

“More needs to be done, not just for the benefit of the media but for councils as well.”

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