Thursday, December 15, 2005

Press release - Information Commissioner's office

Freedom of Information secures release of restaurant reports
Wednesday 14 December 2005
Freedom of Information secures release of restaurant reports
The Information Commissioner has today announced that he is ordering Bridgend County Borough Council to disclose the latest hygiene inspection report for a local hotel. The council had refused to release the information following a freedom of information request.

The Information Commissioner, Richard Thomas, said: “Bridgend County Borough Council argued that the release of inspection reports would undermine the way it carries out its responsibilities, but we were unable to agree that their refusal to disclose was justified under the Freedom of Information Act.

“The public has a right to know what health inspections discover. Well run restaurants have nothing to fear – and much to gain – from public scrutiny. Publishing inspection reports will put pressure on restaurants to raise their
The decision coincides with agreement from London Borough of Hammersmith & Fulham to join the growing number of other local councils which routinely publish food hygiene inspection reports on their websites after requests for the documents under the Freedom of Information Act.

The Information Commissioner, Richard Thomas, said: “The Freedom of Information Act has brought a vast array of previously undisclosed information into the public domain, such as these hygiene inspection reports now being released throughout the UK. However, while some local authorities have been quick to seize the initiative and make such disclosures routine, others have been much slower to issue the information at all.

My advice to local authorities is absolutely clear – the presumption should be in favour of disclosure. There is a strong public interest in the disclosure of this particular category of information, because it gives the public valuable knowledge when making choices about where to eat out.”

The London Borough of Hammersmith & Fulham originally turned down a freedom of information request by WHICH? to view hygiene inspection reports from the last five years, because they were concerned that disclosure could be too damaging to local catering traders, and the inspection process. But following a complaint by WHICH? which was taken up by the ICO, the council agreed to not only release the requested reports, but to make this and future information generally available through their
website, and set up a star rating system.

Decision notice details
Public Authority: Bridgend County Borough Council
Summary: The complainant requested a copy of a food hygiene inspection report for a local hotel. Bridgend CBC refused the request, citing section 31 of the Act ('law enforcement'). The Council argued that it promotes an informal approach to inspections, and disclosure of this type of information would be detrimental to the relationship between the Council's inspectors and businesses. This in turn would result in prejudice to the exercise of the Council's regulatory functions under the Food Safety Act, and would therefore not be in the public interest. The Commissioner decided that the Council has not demonstrated prejudice and therefore the exemption at section 31 was applied inappropriately in this case. Accordingly, the Commissioner
requires the Council to provide the information requested to the complainant.
Section of Act/EIR & Finding: FOI s.31 - Complaint Upheld
Full Transcript of Decision Notice FS50073296

Also see The Guardian -

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