It should be of great concern deserving of much more publicity than so far generated, that during the quiet holiday season the UK Government has appointed a panel to review the Freedom of Information Act (FOI). Such a “review” by cross-party politicians is surely likely to result in more restrictions to its scope.
My recent experience is noteworthy. HMRC’s Valuation Office (VO) first ruled that Fife Council must pay only farmland value for green-belt land it wants to buy, but on the private landowner’s refusal, within weeks HMRC/VO approved 12 times that sum.
But HMRC/VO also disallowed applying the same multiplier for a proposed exchange deal on superior non-green-belt land offered by the university.
Under FOI, I requested the rationale for both its changed advice and its conflicting rulings – which apparently favoured a private landowner at the expense of a part-public-funded institution.
HMRC/VO refused, supported on my appeal by the Information Commissioner, as such information “relates to other taxpayers”, despite my request clearly relating only to its own rulings and requiring no release of another taxpayer’s confidential data.
If such reasonable requests are rejected, Tony Blair’s regret over the FOI Act is unnecessary. It needs strengthening.
John H Birkett