Every so often public officials who wish to curtail Freedom of Information rights will argue that money spent on fulfilling FOI requests might be better spent on healthcare, or fixing roads, or catching criminals.
This argument is superficially persuasive, but there are two significant counter-arguments:
- Firstly, that as taxpayers we have already ‘paid’ for the collection of information held by public authorities and have the right to access that;
- And secondly that FOI allows citizens to scrutinise how our money is being spent and highlight inefficiencies and abuse.
In other words, even if your argument is purely economic (rather than, say, about democratic accountability), Freedom of Information may save at least as much money as it costs: money which, well, might also be better spent on healthcare, or fixing roads or catching criminals.
A system in which public officials can spend money without scrutiny is a system more open to abuse and overspending. So curtailing Freedom of Information to ‘save money’ may be a false economy.
The latest weapon to be used in attacking FOI is to list how many requests are being made by businesses. St Albans Council‘s media offensive against the FOI Act, for example, mentions that:
“57 percent of the requests were from businesses, 15 percent from the national media and 13 percent from the Metropolitan Police.”