Letter: Struggle to open Whitehall files

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The Independent Online
Struggle to open Whitehall files

Sir: The open government code of practice is indeed an important initiative which is helping some people to prise information out of government departments ("Access to official papers praised", 31 January). But it is not as helpful as it should be.

Ombudsman investigations are now taking four times longer to complete than originally intended. At the code's launch in 1994, the former Ombudsman set a 13-week target for dealing with complaints. The first year's cases averaged 15 weeks.

In 1995 the average investigation time doubled to 32 weeks, which the Ombudsman attributed partly to the complexity of the cases and partly to departmental obstructiveness. The most recent cases have taken even longer, 52 weeks on average, with one taking two full years. Even if information is ultimately supplied it may be too late to be of use.

For the second time, an Ombudsman investigation has been hampered by the Government's refusal to allow him to see relevant Cabinet committee papers. The Ombudsman's strong powers to see departmental files do not extend to these, and the Government recently rejected a select committee recommendation that they should.



The Campaign for Freedom of Information

London EC1