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Ministers move to relax Freedom of Information disclosure rules

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By John Glenday, Reporter

January 25, 2013 | 2 min read

Ministers have indicated that they are keen to downgrade the authority of Freedom of Information requests by making it easier for officials to dodge questions posed to them by the public and media.

Justice minister Helen Grant said such a shake-up would be targeted against ‘industrious’ abusers of the system, many of whom submit multiple applications – bogging civil servants down in endless requests.

The move is likely to limit the amount of time civil servants can dedicate to such requests by much more than the present threshold – currently 24 hours work (£600) for central government and 18 hours work (£450) for local bodies.

Grant said: “We aim to focus our efforts on disproportionate use by industrial users of the Act. Eight per cent of requests to central Government cost more than £500 to answer and make up 32 per cent of staff costs.

“The justice committee recognised the issue in recommending a small reduction in the cost limit beyond which requests need not be complied with. We believe that this will result in the most minimal reduction in costs so we will consider whether to go further on this."

A consultation on the proposals will be published in the coming weeks but the media have already reacted negatively to the plans with The telegraph stating: “The change has the potential to severely restrict the work of journalists who investigate the Government and other public bodies. The Telegraph‘s revelations about MPs’ abuse of the expenses system came after an FOI request.”

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