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FoI success for North East weekly

The Darlington & Stockton Times has been able to bring its readers details which it believed should be made public, but had been kept secret by a local authority, thanks to the Freedom of Information Act.

The weekly newspaper decided to put the Act to the test and ask Richmondshire District Council to reveal the cost of a controversial training course for its senior management team in 2002.

The council had been widely criticised for sending senior officers on a team-building weekend run by Adrenalin UK at the Aske estate near Richmond, and refusing to reveal the cost to the public purse on the grounds of commercial sensitivity.

But thanks to new FoI laws the Times has now been able to report that the weekend for 11 staff cost £7,700, including accomodation and meals.

Editor Malcolm Warne said the paper’s findings showed the new legislation worked, and he was pleased that the council had responded quickly to its request.

He said: “I chose this particular item of information because, in 12 years as editor of the Darlington & Stockton Times, it was the only occasion that I thought the D&S was denied information by a local authority which I believed should have been in the public domain.”

He added: “By not revealing the amount spent on the course, the council made the controversy much worse. Suspicions were heightened because of the secrecy.

“The exercise has proved, in our view, that democracy is best served by openness and disclosure. That is the basis on which the FoI Act is drafted and it is gratifying to see it work in practice.”