FoI proposals will cost more money than they will save - Press Gazette

FoI proposals will cost more money than they will save

A new analysis of the Government's proposals to water down the Freedom of Information Act has found that the proposed changes will cost more money than they will save.

The Government is currently consulting on the Freedom of Information and Data Protection Regulations 2007 — which propose to save around £10 million from the estimated £35 million annual cost of the Freedom of Information Act.

Press Gazette has been campaigning against the proposals because they will dramatically increase the number of requests rejected out of hand by public authorities on cost grounds.

The new rules will work by aggregating requests from the same organisation or individual and by including time spent considering whether a request should be answered when deciding whether it will exceed the cost limits of £450 for local government and £600 for central.

Analysis from the whistle-blowing charity Public Concern at Work appears to have wiped out the Government's main reason for the FoI changes — cost saving.

Using figures published by the Government, which suggest that it costs officials between £1 and £2 to read a single page, the charity calculates that it will cost £7.2 million for one official in each of the 100,000 public bodies to read the new rules and guidance restricting FoI requests and a further £5 million for them to think about them.

Aside from these start-up costs, Public Concern at Work analysis suggests that the cost of implementing the new scheme will wipe out the supposed savings.

Guy Dehn, the charity's director, told Press Gazette: "The Government needs to go back to the drawing board and carry out a proper cost-benefit analysis.

"While it is clear that freedom of information deters waste, inefficiency and fraud across the public sector, all these benefits have been ignored in these proposals.“

He pointed out that past FoI requests which have saved large sums of public money will — under these new proposals — be blocked because they cost too much.

He cited as one example the charity's request which forced the release of information on the levels of fraud in Whitehall, which saved over £1.6 million in two years.

Another is the request which revealed that £28,400 was spent on a shower for a chief constable.

The consultation process over the proposed changes to FoI ends in just over two weeks' time.