UK Government's Transparency Was Worst on Record in 2020, New Report Alleges

© AP Photo / LEFTERIS PITARAKIS10 Downing Street (File)
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Commenting on the survey, openDemocracy editor Peter Geoghegan voiced concern about the British government's "toxic" secrecy, claiming that London is "waging a secret war against freedom of information".
The year 2020 was the worst on record for the UK government's transparency, a new report by the investigative journalism website openDemocracy has revealed.
The "Access Denied" report claimed that about 41% of Freedom of Information Act (FOI) requests sent to government departments and agencies were granted in full in 2020, as compared to 43% the previous year.
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According to the survey, this is the lowest figure since the full provisions of the FOI came into force in 2005. Britain's so-called Freedom of Information Act 2000 stipulates a "right of access" to information held by public authorities.

The report found that certain government departments had "far lower FOI disclosure rates than others, with the Cabinet Office among the worst offenders, along with the Foreign Office and the Department for International Trade".

In one case mentioned in the survey, Conservative MP David Davis unsuccessfully tried to receive the details about official research conducted for the government.
He then complained to the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO), arguing that "the government has effectively used large amounts of taxpayers' money to obtain information which may give it a political advantage".

Davis told openDemocracy that "when Whitehall is this desperate to avoid publishing the information, the question has to be asked what decisions are they trying to prevent the public from knowing about?"

Referring to the report, openDemocracy editor Peter Geoghegan accused the government of "waging a secret war against freedom of information".
"And it is winning. This concerns us all because government secrecy is toxic. If left unchecked, it can conceal incompetence and corruption", he underscored.
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Geoghegan was echoed by Steve Goodrich, head of research and investigations at Transparency International UK, who insisted that there should be a "sea change in attitudes towards FOI within Whitehall to avoid it spiralling it [sic] into an accountability black hole".
A Cabinet Office spokesperson has, meanwhile, rejected the report as "complete nonsense", arguing that the document "shows a total misunderstanding" of FOI and "government processes, while misleading readers with outdated statistics".
"As the public would expect, during 2020 government departments were dealing with an unprecedented pandemic. The focus was on saving lives and the NHS [National Health Service], and as the independent Information Commissioner's Office recognised, this left fewer resources available to deal with FOI requests", the spokesperson added.
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