Records being shredded before Information Act

I worked with the Daily Telegraph on a series of articles examining whether government officials were shredding record numbers of documents in an imprudent attempt to get their records systems in order prior to full implementation of the Freedom of Information Act. I will shortly post all the figures and governmental communications I received that form the basis of these stories.

I was particularly interested in the way different departments answered my requests and the information they could provide. It became clear that some departments had few facts at hand to measure records destruction which is disturbing in itself. There is a great need for more checks and balances on the system of government records disposal and it is to be hoped that new electronic records management systems will create a clearer and more auditable system.

Main article (page 1)
By Ben Fenton and Heather Brooke
(Filed: 29/11/2004)

Government departments have been shredding record numbers of official files in the months leading up to the implementation of the Freedom of Information Act.

Information from anonymous government officials, which has been passed to The Telegraph, reveals that vast numbers of documents were being destroyed before enforcement of the act, which empowers any member of the public to apply to see secret files.

Some 10 weeks later, figures obtained from most Government departments support the claims that the destruction of records has accelerated over the past 18 months.

Freedom of information campaigners, MPs and academics fear that in the middle of a “housekeeping exercise”, some politically embarrassing material has been destroyed.

The increase in destruction rates, which in the case of one government department is 500 per cent, appears to follow the circulation of an internal document last year warning departments about the act.

Even before seeing the results of The Telegraph investigation, Richard Thomas, the Information Commissioner charged with supervising the act, had warned that there was a danger of the improper destruction of documents.

He told a meeting of MPs and peers: “Everyone is being encouraged to get their records management system in order but ironically that makes it easier to locate embarrassing material.”

Julian Lewis, shadow minister for the Cabinet Office, said: “I was wondering how a government with such a culture of evasion would be able to cope with an era of openness and it seems The Telegraph has found the answer.

“They are going to destroy the evidence.”

See the full article here .

The rest of the package consists of:

Leader: Watching Big Brother
Will Sir Humphrey share those secrets?
System decides what goes in the bin
Official record of inconsistency
Figures are clouded by confusion


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