Monday, October 18, 2004

Falcolner sets out fees strcuture in speech

The DCA press release below:

Department for Constitutional Affairs (National)

press release

MOST FREEDOM OF INFORMATION REQUESTS FOR FREE - FALCONER

The vast majority of requests made under the new Freedom of Information rights will be free, the Government announced today.

For information which costs public bodies less than £450 to retrieve and collate, there will be no charge. This is roughly equivalent to two and a half days of work, for free. Government departments will only be able to charge where costs rise above £600 (which equates to about three and a half days work).

Constitutional Affairs Secretary Lord Falconer, who made the announcement at the Society of Editors annual conference in Newcastle today, said:

"This Government introduced the legislation to change the culture of official information, and we believe it should be free. A fees structure which is simple to understand and easy to operate follows the spirit of the legislation.

"We don't want cost to deter people from asking about the policy discussions which influence their children's education, the way hospitals treat and care for their parents or the way police patrol their neighbourhoods."

From 1 January people will have a right to information about the way decisions are made, and public money is spent, by more than 100,000 public authorities, including Government departments, schools, NHS Trusts, police forces and local authorities.

Anyone, of any nationality, and living anywhere in the world, will be able to make a written request for information, and expect a response within 20 working days.

Public authorities have already published details of the types of information which will be released proactively on websites - far more will be available on request.

The Freedom of Information Act is an important component of the constitutional reform programme.

Lord Falconer said:

"Greater access to information will improve the dialogue between public bodies making decisions and the people affected by them.

"We want people to play a greater role in policy-making at all levels, not just through the ballot box, but through consultations, forums and other, less formal, contacts with public bodies. The long-term aim of this greater scrutiny and dialogue is to improve decision-making.

"We have always maintained that the majority of costs arising from this legislation should be met by the public purse. But authorities will have the option either to charge the full cost of the more complicated and time-consuming requests which take longer to research and edit, or to not carry them out on cost grounds."

Material which could be released in response to requests covers all recorded information and includes paper files, computer files, internal e-mails, audio and video recordings, brochures and photographs. Legislation is fully retrospective. Public authorities are obliged to respond to requests within 20 working days.

The legislation is designed to strike a balance between people's right to know, and the need for Government to be able to govern effectively and to achieve this there are exemptions to cover areas such as defence, national security, commercial confidentiality and personal data.

Lord Falconer said:

"The exemptions will be used where it is in the public interest to do so, but they are not there as a smoke screen, to cover for negligence or embarrassment. The Information Commissioner has announced his intention to closely monitor the way they are used, which I have welcomed. Both the Government and the Information Commissioner will ensure the spirit of the legislation is maintained."

Notes to Editors

1. The full text of Lord Falconer's speech to the Society of Editors annual conference (18 October 2004) at the Copthorne Hotel, Newcastle, is available on the DCA website: http://www.dca.gov.uk

2. Guidance on implementing the fees system will be issued to public authorities later in the autumn, including the £450 and £600 limits.

3. Public authorities can charge the full cost of copying, printing, postage and other disbursements.

4. Further information about the Freedom of Information can be found at: http://www.foi.gov.uk

5. About 100,000 public authorities are subject to the Act. A full list of types of public body: http://www.foi.gov.uk/coverage.htm

Press release ends

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