Friday, November 19, 2004

Birmingham Mail article

Some comments on the article in the Birmingham mail by Prof Alasdair Roberts from Syracuse (see previous posting)

Comments produced from his letter with permission:

Dear Editor,

I write in response to David Bell's November 11 article, "£1m bill to reveal secrets," which predicts that FOI requests could cost between £1,400 and £4,000 to answer, based on Canadian experience.

I have studied the Canadian FOI law for many years and do not know where these figures come from. I do know that such estimates are irrelevant to the UK, for a very simple reason: Under the UK law, authorities are not required to respond to a request that would cost so much to process. There is no cost limit under Canadian law.

Concern about cost should also be balanced against the millions of dollars saved in Canada as a result of FOI disclosures, and against the millions spent by government on advertising and other promotional activities intended to highlight their own priorities.

Sincerely,

Alasdair Roberts
The Maxwell School of Syracuse University
United States

and my letter:

Dear Editor

Re: Article in Birmingham Mail 11 Nov: £1m bill to reveal secrets

As an academic who researches and teaches Freedomm of Information I write with reference to the above article which I find to be sensationalist and misleading. The figures of £1m you quote as a total bill for Freedom of Information compliance for Birminham Council appear based on evidence which is not clearly explained or based on research I recognise. The Canadian data you mention is not very relevant to the UK examples as the Canadain fee system is different, in the UK there is £450 cost limit compared to none in Canada. The source of this data is also unclear.

Your article makes little mention of the information requests all councils will have to deal with on a daily basis as part of a normal democtratic framework. The Act puts in place a legimate right of access to information, essential for any open society. For example The Act will allow parents to learn more about school admission policies and patients more about hospital invetsigations.

Your article also makes no mention of the issue of central goverment funding available:
To qoute Lord Falconer: "For local government we will reimburse councils for any additional costs, in 2005-06 and beyond, falling on them as a result of the Freedom of Information Act. This is the right approach, and it confirms our commitment to making open government available to all."
Further details from the Guardian

Regards

Steve

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