Compact in action: Persuading the Government to consult

The Campaign for Freedom of Information made successful use of the Compact.

The problem

When the Freedom of Information Act came fully into force in January 2005, it was widely welcomed for making public bodies more open and accountable. But in October 2006 the Government announced plans to amend the act to make it easier for public authorities to refuse requests on the basis of cost.

The Campaign for Freedom of Information, a charity with two staff funded mainly by the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust, was among those angered by the prospect of the act being watered down. It was particularly upset that the Government said it would not consult on its plans - a clear breach of the Compact.

The action

The charity, which was established in 1984 to campaign for freedom of information legislation, wrote to information rights minister Baroness Ashton in November 2006 expressing its "serious concern" at the proposals.

It was also far from happy at the way the proposals were being handled. "We are particularly alarmed at the speed with which the proposals appear to be moving towards implementation," the charity wrote in its letter. "A proper consultation exercise remains essential."

Shortly afterwards, the Compact Advocacy Programme at the NCVO also contacted Ashton to make the same point.

The outcome

The Department for Constitutional Affairs responded by issuing a public consultation on the Freedom of Information Act in December, which gave people almost three months to comment on its proposals.

When the consultation ended earlier this month, constitutional affairs minister Vera Baird pledged the responses would be analysed carefully.

"We were pleased that the Government issued the consultation paper, although we don't yet know what the outcome will be," says Katherine Gundersen, research officer at the Campaign for Freedom of Information. "Many voluntary and community sector organisations use the act, so what happens next will affect a lot of people."

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