Update: Local Government & FOI

Several people have asked me if local government access to information laws have been updated yet to make them compatible with the Freedom of Information Act. They have not.

In some situations, local authorities can close a meeting because of a particular document that they would have to release under the FOIA. A government advisory group was set up a couple of years ago to try and resolve these anomalies and the initial deadline for making existing local authority legislation compatible with the FOIA was set for 1 January 2005.

That deadline came and went. A new deadline was set for March, according to Luke Scofield in the Democracy and Local Governance Division, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister. The General Election announcement put a stop to that. Now a new (slightly vague) date has been set:

‘We’ll be laying it as soon as possible, and it should be in force mid-June,’ Scofield told me.

The amendments to Schedule 12 (a) of the Local Government (Access to Information) Act 1972 will come in the form of a draft Order that Parliament must approve. As far as I know, the public have not been allowed to see the draft order and our first look will be when it goes for a vote – too late to make any major changes if the Order is badly drafted. The draft order should add a public interest test to the older exemptions and a harm test for some exemptions such as commercial confidence.

I would be interested to hear from anyone who has been in the situation where they are excluded from meetings based on documents that must be disclosed under the FOIA.

Local Government (Access to Information)(Variation)(Wales)

The situation is more advanced in Wales, however. The draft order which will amend Schedule 12A for councils in Wales is now on the Welsh Assembly website.

3 Responses to “Update: Local Government & FOI”

  1. tim garbutt says:

    I was excluded from Canterbury City’s Council at the section where press and public are excluded (at least 3 items) when I requested to speak about FOI at that point!

    Can the agenda still contain this kind of secrecy – should they have a statement of principle?

    I asked my council (Thanet District Council) in Kent for a list of secret meetings and they said none was availble but convened them ad-hoc. How to prevent this?

  2. Mike Law says:

    I’m a councillor with the London Borough of Newham. I recently crossed the floor.

    Since crossing the floor I have had to prove my “need to know” with regard to any information I have requested that does not relate to the ward I represent.
    When this was first put to me I asked to see the legislation that supported this requirement. I was given some photocopied pages from a couple of pamphlets published by the LGiU and the LGC and copies of pages from a text book that cited case law that had nothing to do with the information I had been requesting.

    I got hold of the legislation and could find nothing in it that supported the town hall’s position. I then phone the ODPM. the officer I spoke to was as confused as I am.

    Advice given: complain to the Information Commissioner.

    Thought I’d share this just to let you know, even elected members have trouble getting information. So much for open and transparent government.

  3. Hi there, I am in dispute with Dover District Cuuncil over a fence erection which they originally told me did not require planning permission but have subsequntly issued an enforcement notice to dismantle following a locals complaint, I have asked if other applications have been made to them for the same constructions, many have been completed in the immediate locality, and they have told me to look in their archives myself, O.K. I can do that, I have also asked for details of enforcement notices issued to others[ I predict there will be none[ who have done exactly the same without planning consent but they tell me they are exempt from the freedom of information act by virtue of S12A local government Act 1972. I mhave been able to locate the Freedom act on the web, I do not believe this act actually allowsthem to withold such information but I cannot access any of the section 12a of the L>G>A 1972, any ideas?
    Sorry to trouble you got to this website troillong through the net trying to locate the act. Thanks for any help you can give me
    Richard Woolnough

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