Former head of Civil Service Lord Kerslake backs FoI: ‘We need more open government, not less’

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The former head of the Civil Service has backed the Freedom of Information Act in its current form and said: “We need more open government, not less.”

Lord Kerslake’s views on FoI are believed to be at odds with those of his successor, Sir Jeremy Heywood, who has previously condemned the “chilling effect” the act can have.

And a study by Civil Service World/ Dods research found last month that half of civil servants support the introduction of FoI fees.

The Government’s Independent Commission on Freedom of Information received more than 30,000 submissions for its review of the act, which is due to be published in the New Year.

There are widespread concerns that the commission will seek to weaken the act. It is to consider introducing FoI fees, offering further protection to internal discussions and strengthening ministerial veto.

Councils, NHS trusts and universities have all called for the act to be weakened in submissions reported on by Press Gazette last week.

But media organisations, charities, press freedom organisations, trade unions and more than 42,000 individuals – who have signed a Press Gazette petition – have been joined been joined by Lord Kerslake in backing FoI in its current form.

“I suspect my views on freedom of information depart from [those of] many of my colleagues,” he told The Times.

“But in summary, I am not in favour of any significant changes to it. The gap between the governing and the governed is already worryingly large and growing. We need more open government, not less.”

He added: “Of course FOI has a cost but the benefits far outweigh these. The public will draw their own conclusions about any attempt by politicians and officials to restrict their legitimate access to information.”

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