Secrecy prevails at Whitehall despite FoI

By Dominic Ponsford

The Freedom of Information Act seems to have failed so far to shift Whitehall’s long-established culture of secrecy.

Official statistics for the first three months of the act have shown
that of the 6,273 “resolvable” FoI requests made to Whitehall
departments, just 51 per cent were granted in full.

Exemptions have been used 1,850 times so far by central government departments to turn down FoI requests.

The
most popular excuse given for not releasing information is that it
relates to the formulation of government policy (589), followed by
personal information (413), international relations (208), and
communications with Her Majesty (191).

The Ministry of Defence
has been the most popular government department in terms of FoI
requests, with 1,843 in the first three months of the act, and it has
managed to answer a creditable 67 per cent of them in full.

The
Department of Trade and Industry and the Foreign Office are among the
most secretive, having managed to answer 21 and 20 per cent of FoI
requests in full respectively.

FoI specialist at The Guardian,
Rob Evans, said: “We’ve noticed there is a lot of delaying going on
from government departments which ask for more time and then still
don’t come up with anything. “Information which is even remotely
sensitive is just being refused. At the same time, the statistics show
there is a wide variation in how departments are performing. There are
good departments, such as the Department for Transport and the
Department for Work and Pensions, and from these statistics one of the
worst departments appears to be the Home Office.”

Evans added:
“The FoI act is definitely worth having and we have definitely got
information that we would not have got before 1 January. FoI is a
journey down a road to more openness. What we are really talking about
is changing the secretive culture of Whitehall to more openness, and
that takes time.”

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