Fragile flower shows its power

The outgoing Information Commissioner Richard Thomas released a statement via his private PR company (paid for at public expense) this morning in which he urges Whitehall and the public sector to learn the lessons from the MPs’ expenses scandal and routinely publish more official information without waiting to be asked.

“The Freedom of Information Act has been seen as a somewhat fragile flower for most of its lifetime. It has now come of age and moved centre stage – a permanent fixture and a core part of the fabric of public life. The recent uproar over MPs’ expenses has cemented FOI’s reputation as a success story. Over the last four years a much wider range of other information has been disclosed up and down the country. It is a key channel for securing substantially improved transparency and accountability. The surprise is no longer the nature and extent of disclosure. What is astonishing is how much was previously treated as secret.

“There is now much talk of constitutional reform and re-connecting people with politics. Freedom of Information must be embedded within this debate. It is a defining feature of modern democracy – a stark reminder that those elected to power and their officials are accountable to the people. The public has the right to know what is done in their name and with their money. Transparency brings greater public understanding and less scope for impropriety or for decisions or activities to be taken behind closed doors which jeopardise public confidence.”

All very well but why has it taken him until now to understand the value of freedom of information? And on the eve of his departure? Everything Thomas says in this statement was obvious to anyone with eyes to see. In fact, this statement reads like a re-write from my introduction to the first edition of Your Right to Know – which is very flattering but as I always say: where’s the action?

The Information Commissioner still refuses to proactively publish his case log meaning that whenever anyone wants to know the extent of his considerable backlog they have to take time out of their busy day to file an FOI request. Why? The Scottish Information Commissioner has no such qualms and every case on his list is there for all the world to see.

If the Commissioner is to maintain his credibility he must proactively publish his case log now.


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