FOI or Freedom of Information act is designed to give ordinary people a chance to get a question answered by an organisation or public body.
It is a system that has worked well and done a job in exposing corruption and abuse of power. Helpfully, many authorities published ‘disclosure logs’ containing all the questions they have been asked along with most of the answers in a single, easy to read document.
Many of the questions are submitted by businesses to find out things that may help them with their sales activities, not great but there you go. Occasionally you’ll find a gem. It might be that someone, somewhere has spotted something that doesn’t look right, or has a particular interest in a subject. The FOI act gives them a little bit of power to find our more.
Publishing a log of these questions allows the media as well as your average Joe, to have a little insight into what people are asking about. Sometimes a spark of a question can ignite and light up a previously unknown issue. This is all good for the council who have made a commitment to openness and transparency.
Earlier this week, I commented that it had been a full 12 months since the last disclosure log had been uploaded to the website. Telford & Wrekin responded, stating that there is no statutory duty to maintain the logs or indeed make them available at all, and that the web page where they currently reside will be taken down. The reason? Cuts mean they no longer have the resource to keep them updated.
Telford and Wrekin Council did mention that they publish lots of information anyway in the interests of transparency, which is true. They publish every item of expenditure over £100*, when the statutory duty limit is £500 so we should be grateful for that, but what about the one offs? The questions that you don’t know need asking but when someone else asks them, things slot into place?
Your ability to ask questions remains, but your ability to see what questions have been asked is now severely limited.
UPDATE: @JakeSnr suggests that all FoI requests are added through the ‘What do they know’ portal. Although the council get charged for this service, it’s all public, including the responses
*In a massive spreadsheet.