Quoted in Public Finance magazine

Free at last?
By Paul Gosling

In January, the Freedom of Information Act comes into effect, but are public sector bodies prepared? Paul Gosling looks at the likely early demands for information and the challenges facing organisations

The publication of MPs’ expenses last week was a good indicator of what could happen when the Freedom of Information Act takes effect in the new year. For much of the public sector, the initial impact might be an overwhelming media interest in such things as the pay of chief executives in local government, NHS trusts and quangos.

Sure, investigative journalists on national newspapers will try to find out information such as details of British Aerospace’s relationship with the Ministry of Defence – but, at local level, the nuts and bolts of journalistic inquiries will be more humdrum.

Heather Brooke, author of Your right to know: a guide to the Freedom of Information Act, who is conducting training courses for journalists, says the media are most likely to chase ‘really strong public interest stories’. These include the results of fire and food safety investigations, details of companies that trading standards officers are investigating and information on local authorities’ contracts, particularly those involving the Private Finance Initiative and other public-private partnerships.

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