Does FOI Work? The Impact of Freedom of Information on Local And Central Government in England
22 Pages Posted: 6 Dec 2013
Date Written: December 6, 2010
This article examines the impact of Freedom of Information on English local government compared against the impact on central government. Based on findings 2 years into a 28 month ESRC funded study, it examines to what extent FOI has achieved its objectives at local government level. FOI seeks to increase transparency and accountability and improve decision-making, public understanding of decision-making, public participation and public trust.
It also examines whether FOI has impacted upon how authorities work in terms of leadership, service delivery and partnership work. FOI at local level in England is shaped by rising numbers of requests, the diversity of local authorities and the fact that FOI was preceded by other access legislation.
It concludes that FOI has made local authorities slightly more transparent, having been given an extra push by recent innovations in online disclosure of data. It has also created greater accountability and had some impact on public understanding, particularly over small issues. It has had no effect on decision-making except occasionally in particularly sensitive issues. It has not increased participation and has had no impact upon trust. In terms of how authorities work, sources of tension concern requests for information held by businesses working on behalf of authorities and requests from the media. The study highlights the importance of context in determining impact and the role of political leadership in promoting openness.
Keywords: Freedom of Information, Central Government, Local Government, UK
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