PL&B FOI E-news, Issue 18

1. Government plans flat rate FOI fees to cut the numbers of requests

A confidential cabinet report suggests that the Government is hoping to reduce the number of FOI requests by introducing a flat rate fee. The report, which was leaked to the Sunday Times in July, reveals that Lord Falconer, the Constitutional Affairs Minister, is considering new measures to turn serial requesters away. He is suggesting that authorities could allow various activities to be counted towards the overall costs of processing a FOI request. Falconer is said to have commissioned a cost-benefit analysis of FOI fees.

The Campaign for Freedom of Information has criticised the plans as they would make it easier for public authorities to avoid scrutiny. The Campaign's director, Maurice Frankel, said: “The last thing we need is to reverse this process by giving authorities better armour to defend themselves against requests. Instead of making it easier to refuse requests, government should be encouraging authorities to become more open by publishing more information without being asked, handling requests more expertly and organising their records more efficiently.”

See the Sunday Times article of 30th July.

2. Network Rail to comply with EIR

The Information Commissioner ruled, on 26th July, that Network Rail has to provide information in reply to a request made under the Environmental Information Regulations (EIR). The Commissioner says that due to the public administration functions and the responsibilities of the company, Network Rail is considered to be a public authority under the EIR. The Commissioner has thus ordered Network Rail to respond to the requests seeking information relating to flooding adjacent to a track and the company’s plans for the use of a branch line.

The Commissioner clarified that Network Rail is not, however, considered to be a public authority under the Freedom of Information Act.

3. FOIA improves public authorities’ image

The Freedom of Information Act is clearly increasing people’s confidence in public authorities, according to new research published on 17th August by the Information Commissioner’s Office. The findings show that 72% of individuals have more confidence in public authorities because of freedom of information, compared with only 55% in spring 2005, when the Act had only just come into force.

4. Training course on FOI decisions

The Campaign for Freedom of Information is organising a half-day training course entitled ‘Information Commissioner & Tribunal Decisions - what do they mean in practice? The course, which takes place in London on 4th October 2006, examines the decisions issued by the Information Commissioner and Information Tribunal, and highlights their practical implications for authorities and requesters. A similar course will be organised in Scotland on 22nd November.

For more information, see

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