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Local Government Information

Volume 408: debated on Tuesday 1 July 2003

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The Minister for Local Government, Regional Governance and Fire
(Mr. Nick Raynsford)

The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister received eighty written responses to "Access to Information in Local Government. A policy paper on the current and future framework government access to information for Local Authorities in England". As foreshadowed in the paper, we are setting up a review group involving the Local Government Association, the Campaign for Freedom of Information, the Information Commissioner, the Newspaper Society and local authority practitioners to consider these further. The responses, which we are now considering carefully, contain a wide range of helpful comments and suggestions.Our aim, in taking forward this review, is to ensure that the legislative framework governing the public's right of access to information held by local authorities is clear for users and workable in practice for local authorities. We want a system which promotes a culture of openness throughout councils which delivers accountability and transparency in decision making and equally guarantees the protection of information such as personal details where this is necessary.Respondents to the consultation expressed a range of views about how the system is working currently. Some councils judge that he system is working well, although point out that it is too early to draw firm conclusions. Others, outside local authorities, have expressed the view that the existing legislation does not provide sufficient access to information and that councils are not developing a culture of openness.The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister wishes to consider further with the Review Group how to build on the good work which is evident in many authorities and how to address the concerns that have been raised. We believe that implementation of the Freedom of Information Act from January 2005 by councils will help create the culture of openness which some respondents feel is lacking. In addition, we intend specifically to ask the Review Group to consider whether it would be appropriate to achieve greater consistency between the categories of information which authorities can classify as exempt under schedule 12A of the Local Government Act 1972 with those in the Freedom of Information Act 2000.In the light of responses to consultation and of research, which we are planning to publish shortly, we will provide councils with advice on best openness practice. We will seek the Review Group's views on how this can best be done. The Group will also need to consider the interface with other data and information regimes, including the environmental information regulations and data protection legislation.A list of all the responses is available in the Libraries of the House and full copies of the responses are available from the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister's library.