The government will now introduce a pilot system where requesters’ names will not appear.
The move follows almost two years of concerns about the Clearing House, which first emerged after openDemocracy found that the unit had signed off on drafts of FOI responses and had tried to block the release of files about the contaminated blood scandal.
Last year, openDemocracy won a landmark legal victory over the government – forcing it to release information about its operation. A judge ruled there was a “profound lack of transparency” about the Clearing House, which “may extend to ministers”.
The legal victory sparked a parliamentary inquiry, where the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee heavily criticised the Cabinet Office over the handling of FOI requests.
Last year, the government committed to undertake a review of the Clearing House, although it was plagued with delays.
The review, led by Sue Langley, found there was a “lack of clarity around the use of requester names as identifiers within the Round Robin system”.
In response, the Cabinet Office minister Lord True said the government had “listened to the concerns raised by FOI practitioners about the inclusion of requester names on the Round Robin lists and will pilot, with immediate effect, a new system whereby these do not appear.”
In the review, Langley found that 89% of the review’s participants were concerned that requester’s names were being noted, which could undermine data protection principles.
Langley also found how “there is significant concern across government about the delays that can be caused by third parties” and “which need to be addressed urgently”.
She also recommended that the Clearing House should only provide “guidance and advice for uncommon, complex and national security related FOI cases only”.
Last week, openDemocracy revealed that the departments led by Tory leadership hopefuls Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss were the least transparent in the entire government in 2021.
While Sunak was chancellor, the Treasury refused to comply with more FOI requests than any other department in Whitehall. The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, where Truss took over as secretary of state in September, was the slowest of the government’s 41 departments and agencies at releasing information.
From coronation budgets to secretive government units, journalists have used the Freedom of Information Act to expose corruption and incompetence in high places. Tony Blair regrets ever giving us this right. Today's UK government is giving fewer and fewer transparency responses, and doing it more slowly. But would better transparency give us better government? And how can we get it?
Join our experts for a free live discussion at 5pm UK time on 15 June.
Claire Miller Data journalism and FOI expert Martin Rosenbaum Author of ‘Freedom of Information: A Practical Guidebook’; former BBC political journalist Jenna Corderoy Investigative reporter at openDemocracy and visiting lecturer at City University, London Chair: Ramzy Alwakeel Head of news at openDemocracy
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