Bad-mouthing FOI

I notice the naysayers are peeping their heads over the parapet again. I’m serving notice that any public servants moaning about having to account to the public under the Freedom of Information had better be prepared to undergo some intense investigation on their spending. I’ll be keeping my eye out for any FOI bad-mouthers in the future and if you know of any please do let me know.

Perhaps these public servants hope that enough dust has settled from the MPs’ expenses scandal. Let’s remember that it was in secrecy that this massive abuse of public funds was allowed to operate. Transparency was finally acknowledged as the single best cure for preventing corruption. But now some officials are trying to bad-mouth FOI and go back to the old ways. I’ve seen claims that FOI is a waste of public money, that it diverts from the serious business of bureaucracy, that it might even be jeopardizing police investigations. All this is nonsense. FOI is the single best regulator of efficiency and probity. It’s certainly cheaper and more effective than the hundreds of regulators currently in operation.

Yet here’s the latest FOI gripe from Chief Constable Ian Latimer of Northern Constabulary in Scotland: He claims that the number of people making FOI requests is going up.

“There is concern that additional funding will be required to support this business area in 2009-10, diverting resources away from operational policing.”

Firstly, isn’t citizen involvement precisely what our leaders claim to want? Now they have it – and they’re moaning. Turns out they don’t actually want the public asking challenging questions about who does what, whay, and for how much.

On the matter of funding – let me remind readers of the vast amounts of cash police forces are spending on Public Relations (i.e. propaganda) departments. Re-read the investigation I did for the Times on police PR spending. We found that police forces across the UK were spending £39m each year on press and PR – enough to fund an extra 1,400 full time officers and more than enough to cover the annual police pay rise withheld by the Government. The ratio of PR to FOI officers was also striking; many forces having 12 PR people for every one FOI person (that’s them telling us what they want us to know as opposed to actually answering our questions).

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