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Pickles squashes bid to charge for FoI requests

Local government secretary Eric Pickles has moved swiftly to squash an attempt to enable councils to charge newspapers for Freedom of Information requests.

As reported on HTFP yesterday, Hampshire County Council had called for a change in the law to enable local authorities to charge organisations who may benefit commercially from receiving the information.

The council wanted the Local Government Association to take up its cause with ministers, claiming it spent £346,000 answering FoI requests during 2009-10.

But within hours of our story appearing, Mr Pickles had issued a statement which effectively slammed the door on the idea.

He said: “If councillors and council officers are to be held to account, the press and public need access to the information that will enable them to do it.

“If town halls want to reduce the amount they spend on responding to freedom of information requests they should consider making the information freely available in the first place.

“The simple act of throwing open the books, rather than waiting for them to be prised apart by the force of an FoI, might even save a few pounds in the process.

“Greater local accountability is essential to accompany the greater powers and freedoms that the new government is giving to local government.”

Mr Pickles’ statement will be seen as a shot in the arm for the Society of Editors after its executive director Bob Satchwell criticised the council’s move.

Bob said: “It’s ludicrous. Hampshire County Council should remember this information doesn’t belong to them, it belongs to the public.”

  • Freedom of Information expert and Trinity Mirror head of multimedia David Higgerson has documented another example on his blog of a council attempting to charge for dealing with FoI requests, namely Chester and Cheshire West.

    His blog post can be read in full here.

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