LETTER:Is there such a thing as a free piece of information?

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THERE is no excuse for public authorities to charge individuals or community groups for supplying answers to reasonable requests for information.

Last year the Local Government Commission, of which I was then chief executive, published its recommendations for the future structure of local government in England.

Local residents could, on request, obtain the commission's reports free of charge (although the retail price was about pounds 10 each). Every resident received a leaflet detailing the commission's recommendations and was encouraged to send their views to the commission through free post. Hundreds of thousands of people did so. The result of this unprecedented exercise in consultation was that the commission altered its recommendations in many counties.

Charging for information that can affect people's daily lives is wrong. It is a way of retaining undue secrecy in the conduct of the nation's affairs. The income from charges is usually minuscule in relation to the organisation's total expenditure - and anyway most of them have to surrender the income directly to the Treasury.

Martin Easteal

Former Chief Executive

Local Government


Harlow, Essex