Tuesday, 4 August 2009

FOI and EIR Right to Know

These are known as the “Public Right to Know” acts effective from 2005.

Basically FOI is the UK version of the EU’s EIR.

Both provide the right of the public to access: see and hold all public information.

FOI has some exemptions. But the EIR has far fewer if any. And crucially EIR requires a “Public Interest Test” to justify any exemption sought.

Clearly it’s pretty impossible to justify it being in the public interest not to provide public-funded information to the public.

At a local government level I can think of no information that could be withheld: civil servant payroll, coroners reports, Police staffing and payroll costs, NHS etc etc.

Councillor wages are made public as are MP costs and quite right too.

Even MI5 has to disclose its expenses and costs.

The only areas that aren’t routinely made public are civil servants costs: salaries, pensions, cars, expenses, allowances. And MEP’s. And council and Government department investments, bank accounts and reserves.

Why? Any half-decent accountant or management consultant could then take a view on the costs for the services provided.

I can’t understand how TDC councillors are making decisions on policies and effectiveness if they don’t have copies of the payroll and dept staffing levels?

Closing museums might be viable as a policy but so might cutting council salaries or staff or obtaining more funds or reducing council tax.

The civil servants seem to be running rings round the councillors to cut services, boost salaries and not improve the area.

Over 500 staff at TDC. 900 at CCC, tax-budgets of £60M-plus. Quangos and semi-quangos. The worst drinking water. The highest lung cancer rate. The highest early death rate.

What has been going on?

Not one council meeting or one councillor has raised the issue of Thor or the drinking water.

KCC has even cancelled its September Council meeting as there isn't enough for it to do.

Under FOI/EIR there is no exemption for “commercial confidentiality” as clearly any company doing business with the public sector would realise that its contracts etc can be disclosed.

As well, EIR cover utilities too: airports, electricity, water, rail and so on.

EIR is particularly useful for obtaining information as it covers: soil, water, air and the human policies and documents affecting these.

In short everything. And in the public interest. As a right to know.

All Government and council and quango departments should routinely publish all their costs each month. Plus MEP’s and the departments they’re responsible for. Plus investments and bank accounts and reserves.

With the internet and Excel sheets it’s not difficult or time-consuming, The information already exists. Any “side documents or budgets” would quickly be weeded out.

Which is why the FOI was introduced by the UK Government to water down some of these disclosures.

If you need to obtain information simply telephone, write or email and request “what information relates to xyz or please provide xyz under FOI/EIR”.

You should have a response within 20 days. This can be for documents, handwritten notes, internal documents, memos, emails etc.

The Environment Agency – remember Thanet has the worst drinking water in the South East – has been unable to provide any toxin reports from Thor mercury for over 6 months now.

An Environment Agency that cannot protect the Environment.

And is no doubt staring into the black hole of Thor and wondering what to do – as the pollution by their own confirmation seeps beyond the factory site.

Thor should have closed in 1988 after polluting the water table and poisoning several workers.

Are any local people suffering from the effects of mercury?

Maybe not after 20 years.

Time for Change.

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