Letter sent to Daily Mail, 10 December 2015
Well done on the Daily Mail for its campaign to protect our fragile Freedom of Information Act (Mail 10 Dec.), including your robust Comment setting out why we need to strengthen FOI - not dilute or neuter it.
Almost exactly a year ago (3 Dec, 2014) I asked the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC )in an FOI request if it would send me the “ full documentation provided to the European Commission is support of the UK application for State Aid agreement on the Hinkley Point C nuclear project, including :
a report by KPMG on potential distortions to competition; a report by Oxera on market failures, proportionality and potential distortions of competition; a study by Pöyry on potential distortions to the internal market and alternatives to new nuclear; report by Redpoint on the evolution of the UK electricity sector; & details of the Cost Discovery and Verification process, compiled by KPMG and LeighFisher.”
DECC refused, but admitted there were actually 126 documents, not just the five I listed, and also threw out my appeal. DECC told me: "Having balanced the public interest arguments, we consider the public interest in releasing the full notification is outweighed by the need to ensure that the Commission is able to carry-out its investigatory functions effectively which involves the submission of candid and frank views by the Government and requires a safe space for the Commission to consider matters out of the public eye. This would not be possible if information contained in State aid notifications were subject to disclosure
I passed my request on to the Information Commissioner.
After several months of exchanging e-mail communications, in which I explained in great detail the public interest in disclosure, in mid-August, the Commissioner – who is supposed to protect citizens’ right to know – unbelievably rejected my appeal in a fifty page justification for secrecy.( https://ico.org.uk/media/action-weve-taken/decision-notices/2015/1432387/fer_0571064.pdf)
Distilling the verbiage, the Information Inspector came down on the side of the French-owned energy supplier EDF (Electricité de France) Energy’s commercial interests to keep documents secret over the public interest of taxpayers to know how billions of pounds of their taxes are going to be handed over to this foreign company, who will no doubt repatriate our taxes to Paris.
I have appealed to the next level of adjudication, the so-called First-tier Tribunal (Information Rights) . Will it take yet another 12 months to draw a blank? Is the FOI system really fit-for-purpose when a public authority (ie DECC) can filibuster for six months, and our Information Commissioner can come down on the side of secrecy not Joe Public?