“Positive stuff but nothing new” in Clegg’s FoI announcement

Nick Clegg's latest remarks on Freedom of Information have been praised, though only when the Bill is presented to Parliament will full details emerge.

Nick Clegg’s pledge to extend freedom of information laws has been praised by campaigners for greater transparency. The deputy prime minister said this morning that it was a “fundamental right” of citizens to hold the government to account, saying that if an organisation’s actions had “clear consequences for the public good, people must be able to see right into the heart of them”, with hundreds more bodies set to be subject to FoI.

Though welcoming Mr Clegg’s remarks, the Director of the Campaign for Freedom of Information Maurice Frankel told Left Foot Forward that the proposals had already been announced, and full details would only be revealed once the Bill was presented to Parliament.

He said:

“There’s nothing new in there – three-quarters of the proposals were announced by Labour, the rest come from Tory and Lib Dem manifestos and pre-election publications. Parliament’s not back tomorrow, so there won’t be anything new in his speech tomorrow; any new proposals will be held back till a Parliamentary announcement later this month.

“It’s all positive stuff though, and it’s what we’ve been expecting, the publishing of more information about spending, and bringing public pressure to bear on high spending – but we’ll have to see if there are any restrictions being introduced. Tomorrow’s speech will be a speech of intent rather than a substantive announcement.”

Among the proposals the Liberal Democrat leader will announce tomorrow are that FoI will be extended to cover the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO), the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS), academy school trusts and the Financial Ombudsman Service, with the Local Government Association (LGA), the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), Network Rail and utility companies also set to be covered.

Additionally, there are also plans to make the Information Commissioner independent of the Ministry of Justice and answerable to Parliament not government, as happens in Scotland, while Mr Clegg will also say that the time government records are kept secret will be cut from 30 years to 20 – a policy announced by the Labour government in February.

As the Mail reported at the time, then justice minister Michael Wills said:

“This decision will result in increased transparency and accountability in Government, by allowing the public to access and scrutinise important historical documents much earlier than at present. It’s a significant step forward in providing access to information held by public authorities.

“Reducing the 30 year rule to 20 years in this way will help to reinforce public trust in Government decision making and strengthen our democracy, while still protecting the essential constitutional relationships that underpin our system of governance.”

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