UK government “is waging a secret war on transparency”

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UK government “is waging a secret war on transparency”


The UK government has been accused of waging a covert war on transparency, using a range of tactics to block the release of information to the public.

In a report released on Monday, investigative journalism site openDemocracy claimed that last year was the worst year for transparency since the Freedom of Information Act came into effect in 2005.

He highlighted the government’s own figures which show that by 2020, 41% of public access to information requests to central government departments were fully granted. Government statisticians admit that “this is the lowest figure since registration began in 2005”.

The Cabinet Office, which is responsible for freedom of information, called the report “utterly absurd” and showing “a complete misunderstanding” of the law. He said the Covid pandemic had left fewer resources available to respond to public access to information requests.

However, an analysis of the government’s annual reports on the Freedom of Information Act shows a steady decline in the number of fully granted requests over the past decade. This is also recognized by government statisticians who describe what they call a “down” or “down” trend.

Graphic freedom of information

The Cabinet Office disputed that the measure was a precise way to assess the level of transparency within Whitehall, arguing that some requests would still be rejected in their entirety because they concerned sensitive areas such as the functioning of cabinet committees.

The openDemocracy report comes amid sustained criticism that the government is unfairly blocking the release of information to members of the public seeking to control the work of official organizations.

In February, publishers of national newspapers called on the government to protect the law, which gives the public the legal right to request information from public bodies.

In its report, openDemocracy highlights how MPs are prevented from accessing information. Conservative MP David Davis unsuccessfully asked for details of government-commissioned opinion polls that could give ministers a political advantage.

Davis said: “When Whitehall is desperate to avoid releasing the information, the question must be asked of what decisions are they trying to keep the public from knowing? “

Peter Geoghegan, editor-in-chief of openDemocracy, said: “The UK government is waging a secret war on freedom of information. And it’s a winner. It concerns us all because government secrecy is toxic. Left unchecked, it can hide incompetence and corruption.

The OpenDemocracy report accuses the government of exploiting a series of loopholes to delay public access to information, or of blocking requesters by not responding.

Public bodies have the right to ask for more time to determine whether they should disclose information. But openDemocracy said the evidence suggested it was often used simply to delay responses to sensitive requests.

OpenDemocracy also said the emails showed policy advisers working for ministers reviewing requests before decisions were made on whether to release information.

A Cabinet Office spokesperson said: “This report is completely absurd. It shows a complete misunderstanding of the FoI Act and government processes, while misleading readers with outdated statistics.

“As the public might expect, in 2020 government departments were facing an unprecedented pandemic. The aim was to save lives and the NHS, and as the Office of the Independent Information Commissioner acknowledged, this left fewer resources available to process FoI requests.

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