November 12th, 2010

FOI Payments Get Pickled

Eric Pickles has decreed that councils can no longer charge for FoIs.  One of the most frustrating answers to truth-seekers, of which Guido counts himself amongst, is that the information is too expensive to obtain. Always taken with a pinch of salt.

So to your keyboards co-conspirators. Though this is a good move, wouldn’t it just be simpler to put all the information on-line in the first place?


  1. 1
    Billy Bowden is the greatest umpire ever ! says:

    Good move but will this include big central goverment as well ?

  2. 2
    Bob says:

    Putting all the information online would stop half the waste right there

    And make all these functionaries think twice abour pissing our money up the wall…

  3. 3
    Spank Sinatra says:

    Agreed – have yet to come across any council willing to have its dirty linen subject to scrutiny.

  4. 4
    Jack says:

    Pickles has understood how to use public opinion and co-conspirators against the arrogance and waste of government

    best thing we have had from this Coalition so far

  5. 5
    Mitch says:

    Not charging doesn’t stop them using the ‘too expensive’ excuse??

    In fact, removing the income from FOI may make more future requests ‘too expensive’?

  6. 6
    The Court of Public Opinion says:

    You can hear the reponse straight away: “Since the cuts we don’t have the manpower to put it online”.

  7. 7
    The Penguin says:

    Aren’t they forcing councils to publish huge swathes of information on their spending anyway?

    Mr Pickles, more power to your fat elbow!

    The Penguin

  8. 8
    Stuck-Record says:

    Whatever happened to the plan to put all government job advertising (especially the BBC) on the Internet? Thereby depriving the Guardian of its huge source of income.

    Talk of it was all the rage before the election. Since then: silence.

    Does anyone have any news of plans to do this? And if not, why not?

  9. 9

    Councils can’t currently charge for most FOI requests, so the notion that he’s decided that they will “no longer” be able to is false.

    He was simply emphasising that he won’t be allowing changes to legislation to allow them to charge in future, as some council leaders had been pushing for.

  10. 10

    Pickles’ hand is all blurry….diabetes kicking in…?

  11. 11
    Mornington Crescent says:

    It would indeed be far simpler, far cheaper and far, far more transparent if councils put this information online in the first place…

    …which is, of course, precisely why our bent, profligate councils refuse to do it.

    Rock on, Eric.

  12. 12
    Mitch says:

    No…..Yorkshire poppy.

  13. 13
    jgm2 says:

    Disagree. Best thing so far was abolition of ID cards.

    Next best thing would be to launch prosecution of previous government like they’re doing in Iceland.

  14. 14
    48 Crash says:

    that’s funny – the big ‘departments will have to make public their targets’ announcement overlooked the fact that they already do. Don’t tell me Mr Pickled is using the same spin-ish technique?

  15. 15
    Billy Bowden is the greatest umpire ever ! says:

    For Treason ?

    agree about id cards

  16. 16
    jgm2 says:

    Yes. Treason. And I’d scoop up Mervyn King and a fair few high-ranking Civil Servants for that too.

  17. 17
    Billy Bowden is the greatest umpire ever ! says:

    Off With there heads !!!!!!!

  18. 18
    keddaw says:

    > Though this is a good move, wouldn’t it just be simpler to put all the information on-line in the first place?


    The most annoying thing about the FOI (good though it is) is that you have to know exactly what you want to know before you ask for it. Some of the most corrupt/interesting things that are being done, on our dime and in our name, are so secretive that we couldn’t possibly have heard enough about it to ask to know more about it.

  19. 19
    Mike Hunt says:

    Which I hope is the object of the exercise.

  20. 20

    What are the rules that cover which FOI request you can make – Can i make a request to see how many pies Prescott has eaten since being made a Baron.
    Can you ask for anything….?

  21. 21
  22. 22
    jgm2 says:

    Well as long as you don’t suggest we stone the worthless fuckers then I suppose you should be on safe ground legally.

    Personally I’d prefer to see them hung from a crane in long daisy chains.

  23. 23
    Sres says:

    They would still hold things back…

  24. 24
    HappyUK says:

    This unassuming northern fat bloke continues to astound me in his quiet, sensible way. What a simple, yet brilliant idea!

    This too-expensive excuse has for too long been employed as an excuse to fuck people over with their information requests. Retrieving data is NOT expensive. Period. In a way, this will force them to put out their information online.

  25. 25
    The Court of Public Opinion says:

    Gentle followers of the religion of peace bravely burn a poppy during yesterdays 2 minutes silence:

  26. 26
    Billy Bowden is the greatest umpire ever ! says:

    I was thinking the way the Chinese deal with bent officals

  27. 27
    The Court of Public Opinion says:

    Why liebour started their illegal war in Iraq would be a good start – the whitewash inquiry revealed nothing.

  28. 28
    sockpuppet #4 says:

    Why does it astound you? Fat northern blokes are great.

  29. 29
    sockpuppet #4 says:

    They let their bent officials get away with it.

    Its the ones that aren’t powerful enough that serve as the scapegoats.

  30. 30

    Has the DofC&LG considered the effect this will have on community councils (parish & town councils in England) which are typically served by one, often part-time, clerk?

  31. 31
    Cassandrina says:

    More likely they will get even slower than they are already.

  32. 32
    Choking Hazard says:

    Every time I see and hear Pickles I can’t help thinking of Sydney Greenstreet (of Maltese Falcon/Casablanca fame).

  33. 33
    Eric Rocks says:

    I like Eric Pickles. No Bullshit, common sense politician.

    It took Mrs Balls Years to produce those ghastly HIPS, it took Eric just 5 minutes to eradicate them. Other politicians would have dithered and consulted for months before doing the right thing.

  34. 34
    Sir William Waad says:

    Great news, but it’s always easy to be generous with other people’s money. Let’s hope the same spirit of openness will permeate the dusty gloom of Westminster.

  35. 35
    Anonymous says:

    It will probably surface that the systems in place to charge for FOI cost more to run than the revenue they generated.

    Truth is that councils were inventing the cost excuse as a reason not to provide th FOI that they did not want to release.

  36. 36
    jgm2 says:

    Blair had learned from Clinton how an enquiry without rigidly defined scope could branch off in all kinds of directions and before you know it there are girls getting their dresses out of the freezer.

    That’s why he had the enquiry examine the very specific question ‘If MI5 presented me with this document then would I have been justified in thinking Iraq was a danger?’

    The enquiry was not allowed to explore the issue of ‘this document’ being repeatedly rewritten and sent back to MI5 until they finally gave Blair what he wanted. A document he could use in just such an enquiry to justify what he was planning to do all along.

    This was in no way a subtle whitewash. This was a full-on, spit-in-your-face-and-tell-you-it’s-raining-whitewash.

    This was I’ve won two elections and have still got a massive majority and can do whatever the fuck I like whitewash. This was Berlusconiesque in its audacity.

  37. 37
    will says:

    Good too many authiroties and other organisations have used this not to provide confidential information.

    Eric Pickles despite his faults is currently proving to be very effective at the job. Asking authorities to scrap local publicity rags etc.

    He seems to be one person in the coalition who is making a difference.

    Also on Channel 4 news last night a poll wa carried out in which individuals agreed with the cuts and individuals to work for benefits. This included labour party members. So do not belive the rabble rousers and left wing press based in london. If you go beyond the M25 or guardian land you will realise that the majority of people approve of this government, hard as it may seem to some lefties but the people did vote for the conservatives and lib dem if not a coalition.

  38. 38
    Lard Presclott of Bulimia, Bog Seats, Beams,Bellies,Banjos,Punches, Croquet, Pies, Jags 'n' Shags says:

    Ask away – the answer is 4,800,000. Which is roughly a millionth of the National Debt we left the Government to deal with. BURP !!

  39. 39
    Sir William Waad says:

    Nil? With the small councils you should just phone the person and ask them.

  40. 40
    Pissed off voter says:

    yes it is a good move but the biggest quango in the country continues to respond to FOIs with a standard reference to it’s exclusion from the act.

    Come on Mr Pickles, the pseudo-labour BBC is a blot on the government’s pledge of transparency and fairness.

  41. 41
    Dick Tator says:

    Most of the stuff they do is on computer systems already, so all they need to do is allow access to it. No edit privileges, read only.

    What is so difficult about that?

  42. 42
    AC1 says:

    make Any unaccounted for spending to be paid by councillors.

  43. 43
    Benny Fitz-Clements says:

    They can’t take away all ‘my’ benefits. It’s taken me years to understand what I’m ‘entitled’ to. Gordon certainly made the system very complex.

  44. 44
    Moley says:

    See Link at side; “Trust in Politicians down 50%.

    2% of the public used to trust politicians, now only one percent do. (only joking, it’s not as high as that).

    FOI request to all three Party Liars in Chief. (aka Leaders).

    How is it going to be possible to have elections when it is no longer possible to believe anything any politician says, regardless of Party?

    Bit of a problem for the electorate isn’t it?

  45. 45
    Madame Defarge says:

    Get the tumbril !!

  46. 46
    Peter Grimes says:

    At least Pickled is putting expenditure on line so we can see the waste and the quango-funding roundabout for ourselves. This will put an end to the lies ZaNuLieBor were so fond of telling, through their PR arm Al JaBeeBa, about this that or the other. Oh alright, just about everything. All we need now is a complete breakdown of the former nationalities of those given British citizenship in the last 13 miserable years and just what benefits they are claiming, and for the government to tell us how many EU immigrants who have returned home are still being paid various benefits.

  47. 47
    The Court of Public Opinion says:

  48. 48
    Nick2 says:

    I wonder if the main reason for councils dithering is that their IT systems are so badly designed/outdated in structure that extracting meaningful information for specific FoI requests is difficult – and putting everything online would require total reorganisation of their IT.

    I also suspect that councils use IT as a drunk uses a lamp-post – for support rather than illumination.

  49. 49
    Backwoodsman says:

    Don’t think too many people have a problem with community councils , sunshine. Its the real crooks, the bbc , with their unlimited staff resources and links to corrupt and incompetent labour politicians, that currently evade scrutiny. Its public money, so the minutes of every bbc editorial meeting should be available for public scrutiny on line.

  50. 50
    Mitch says:

    Exactly right on both counts….

    Plus it suits their innate tendency to secrecy.

  51. 51
    Lil Olmey says:

    As for the previous In-Administration, the cry is ‘Off with their Eds !’

  52. 52
    South of the M4 says:

    What gets measured, gets improved. An old, but true saying.

  53. 53
    Batty Hattie Harmanescu says:

    Put it all on line?

    Perhaps not, because then we would get to know the things we didn’t know we knew. The things to be known that the powers that be would not want us to know was knowable would be revealed as something worth knowing.

    My thanks to Donald Rumsfeld.

  54. 54
    J lewis-list says:

    Pickles for PM; good to see that there is at least one Conservative politician in the government.

  55. 55
    In the Know says:

    ironic given he is currently supressing information

  56. 56
    Sunday Morning says:

    Doesn’t matter whether the requests are free or whether they are charged….if they are not complied with!!!!

    This one seems to be taking a long long time without bearing fruit….

  57. 57
    Batty Hattie Harmanescu says:

    Bit of a problem? Not really, Westminster politicians are an irrelevance now that we are part of the EUSSR 4th Reich. Power rest with Brussles and Herman Achille Van Rompuy, bet you’re glad you voted for him eh?

  58. 58
  59. 59
    Mr Ned says:

    The FOI was originally drawn up solely as a means for labour to publish embarrassing information about the tories, before the 2001 election, that would otherwise have been subject to a 30 year rule, and after they only meant for the act to be used as a freedom to withhold information act.

    It was labours incompetence and the independence of the Lords that ensured that labour’s loopholes were taken out and that it could be used against labour and other MPs too. The labour MPs were those fighting hardest against it’s use in the latter years of the last labour maladministration

  60. 60
    Mr Ned says:

    “Does anyone have any news of plans to do this? And if not, why not?”

    I don’t, because I haven’t looked for it.

  61. 61
    hmmm says:

    if it’s free, they’ll have an excuse to delay giving you the info for years or maybe at all. No doubt citing cutbacks and lack of resources for it. At least if you have to pay something, you can demand a decent level of service and it reduced the number of requests they were dealing with. Perhaps they should have the option of a fast tracked pay service for those who don’t want to wait?

  62. 62
    Anonymous says:

    What about all the births deaths etc
    old maps and national archive material
    you can’t access any of this without being charged for it
    all this material is about the population so likewise should be available to them

  63. 63
    Anonymous says:

    To measure is to know.

  64. 64
    Anonymous says:

    There is the question, HMG is very good at obfuscating and putting search fees on various things epecially where government departments are concern eg NHS which only leads to rumour MoD where no real defence secrets are involved and so it goes on,

  65. 65
    Anonymous says:

    Yes the only trouble once on line though that information is sold to private companies who then let the public have the information at a price and that happened under Liebore

  66. 66
    Anonymous says:

    Or any government department in fact

  67. 67
    Moley says:

    An interesting point.

    The differentiation between Labour and the Conservatives on the EU was based on Cameron’s lie about a referendum. I believe that Cameron had considered the possibility that the treaty might have been ratified before the election and had already decided that if it had, he would not hold a referendum.

    The only way that the parties can distinguish themselves from each other is by lying about their intentions; that is why they are so concerned about Harriet Harman’s attitude towards liar Woolas.

  68. 68
    Stryker Miliband says:

    Although obviously it would cost far too much for Eric to tell anyone how much of our money he spends on mobile phone calls:

  69. 69
    Peter Grimes says:

    Except when it is measured against ZaNuLieBor ‘targets’!

    Then the only thing which is improved is ‘administrators” salaries.

  70. 70
    Pissed off voter says:


  71. 71
    Pissed off voter says:

    agreed. when the BBC is finally unlocked it will be a bigger scandal than MPs expenses

  72. 72
    Exiled in Wales says:

    I doubt this will apply in the devolved countries. So the jobsworths here will continue to be obstructive, and ask us to pay-up as well.

    For what it’s worth, the recession hasn’t touched most of Wales, unless you’re unfortunate enough to have a job in the real economy.

    Next time you’re here, take a detour to have look at the glass and steel Local Authority palaces being built with English taxpayer’s money. Then cast your eyes down to the car park and check-out the high-spec BMW, VW and Renault lease cars being driven by the jobsworths.

    It’s sickening.

  73. 73
    Pickles is a hypocritical trougher says:

    Transparency’s great – for example, before MPs’ expenses became public Eric Pickles used to claim £280 a month for food, because he thought he was better than the mere mortals who have to pay for food out of their wages.

    Since the Telegraph and Heather Brookes exposed what he was up to, the Fat One has stopped troughing and started criticising everyone else for wasting cash.

    However, he has yet to pay back any of the thousands of pounds he blew on snacks that were wholly, exclusively and necessarily required for the conduct of his Parliamentary duties.

  74. 74
  75. 75
    Mr Ned says:

    First line:

    “Before starting in journalism, I worked at the banking house of N M Rothschild.”

    Well if a Rothschild pleb is pissed off with the Government, they must be doing something right!

  76. 76
    Mornington Crescent says:

    Parish and town councils already have to keep records of income and expenditure; all Eric is forcing them to do is to make the farking records available to the poor bloody taxpayer that funds ‘em.

  77. 77
    I like Eric Pickles. No Bullshit, common sense politician. says:

  78. 78
    helpful says:

    Start a petition on the Downing Street website.

  79. 79
    Anonymous says:

    How about a FOI to find out the cot of legal advice to DCLG

  80. 80
    Anonymous says:

    Great, now, as a taxpayer, I subsidise every nutter and tinpot aggrieved company that wants to pester a council with inconsequential time wasting queries

  81. 81
    UK Fred says:

    I understand that LL nhs JOBS ARE ONLY ADVERTISED ON THE NET.

  82. 82
    Anonymous says:

    I’ve been looking for your coverage of the esteemed minister’s sensible and mature response to criticism from the association of London Councils last week. Funny thing, I can’t seem to find any on here.

    As I know you are all such fans I am sure you will want to read the following

  83. 83
  84. 84
    Pie or pint? says:

    I work in local government (as a town planner) and I can confirm that the Very Fat Controller is held in utter contempt by just about every single person in the planning world. This view is shared right across the political boundaries (and I speak as a Tory voter).

    It is not even so much what he is doing, although there is a huge amount wrong with many of his plans. It is the gross over-simplifications and ridiculous caricatures of local government that he uses to try to ‘justify’ his plans that really draws people’s ire. Everyone knows that major spending cuts are needed, but his attempt to claim that local government is “the last bastion of communism” (amongst other pathetic assertions) to justify massive budget cuts is appalling. I don’t see many other Secretaries of State absolutely slating the public sector workers in their department in the way he does.

    And on the subject of FoI, whilst there is a need for much information to be made public, some of the FoI requests received require a ridiculous amount of work to produce. Requests like: “I would like to have details of all communication between council officers and (insert company bidding for work) over the last two years, including all emails, meeting minutes, notes of telephone calls etc”. Much of the information requested may already be in the public domain, but the process of going through and sorting out what has and hasn’t already been released, and then what can and can’t be released, is hugely resource-intensive.

  85. 85
    Nick says:

    Local councils can’t charge now. Nor can anybody else. Pickles has simply agreed with the previous government’s line that this shouldn’t change. And Councils (as well as every other public authority) will still be able to calculate the internal costs, and refuse a request if it would be too expensive to comply.

    So, in summary, no change here.

    Sorry, Guido, you’ve been completely spun by this one. Just because he’s fat and blunt, it doesn’t mean he’s actually doing anything.

  86. 86
    Anonymous says:

    urm, they can charge for all work over 18 hours, so yes Guido is correct.

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