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UK government ‘waging secret war against transparency’

secret war

UK government ‘waging secret war against transparency’

The UK government has been accused of waging a secret war against transparency, using an array of tactics to block the release of information to the public.

In a report published on Monday, the investigative journalism website openDemocracy alleged that last year was the worst year for transparency since the Freedom of Information Act came into force in 2005.

It highlighted the government’s own figures that show that in 2020, 41% of freedom of information requests by the public to central government departments were granted in full. Government statisticians acknowledge that “this is the lowest figure since recording started in 2005”.

The Cabinet Office, which is responsible for freedom of information, dismissed the report as “complete nonsense” and showing “a total misunderstanding” of the act. It said the Covid pandemic had left fewer resources available to answer freedom of information requests from the public.

However, an analysis of the government’s annual reports on the Freedom of Information Act shows a consistent fall in the number of requests being granted in full over the last decade. This is also acknowledged by government statisticians who describe what they call either a “downward” or “decreasing” trend.

The Cabinet Office disputed whether this measurement was an accurate way of assessing the level of transparency within Whitehall, arguing that some requests would always be rejected in full because they concerned sensitive areas such as the working of cabinet committees.

The report by openDemocracy comes amid sustained criticism that the government is unjustly blocking the release of information to members of the public who seek to scrutinise the work of official organisations.

In February, national newspaper editors called on the government to protect the act, which gives the public a legal right to request information from public bodies.

In its report, openDemocracy highlights how MPs are being blocked from accessing information. The Conservative MP David Davis unsuccessfully sought details of opinion polls commissioned by the government that could give ministers a political advantage.

Davis said: “When Whitehall is this desperate to avoid publishing the information, the question has to be asked what decisions are they trying to prevent the public from knowing about?”

Peter Geoghegan, openDemocracy’s editor, said: “The UK government is waging a secret war against freedom of information. And it is winning. This concerns us all because government secrecy is toxic. If left unchecked, it can conceal incompetence and corruption.”

OpenDemocracy’s report accuses the government of exploiting a series of loopholes to delay the public’s access to information, or stonewalling requesters by failing to answer.

Public bodies are entitled to request more time to consider whether to release information. But openDemocracy said evidence suggested that this was often used simply to delay responses to sensitive requests.

OpenDemocracy also said emails had shown that political advisers working for ministers were vetting requests before decisions were made on whether to release information.

A Cabinet Office spokesperson said: “This report is complete nonsense. It shows a total misunderstanding of the FoI Act and government processes, while misleading readers with outdated statistics.

“As the public would expect, during 2020 government departments were dealing with an unprecedented pandemic. The focus was on saving lives and the NHS, and as the independent Information Commissioner’s Office recognised, this left fewer resources available to deal with FoI requests.”

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Supreme Court Dismisses Suit Challenging Adeleke’s Candidacy

The Supreme Court has affirmed Ademola Adeleke as the authentic candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP in the just concluded Osun State Governorship Election.

This has laid to rest the suit filed by Dotun Babayemi, a governorship aspirant of the party who sought the invalidation of Adeleke’s victory.

In a judgement delivered by Justice Amina Augie, the five-member panel held that the court lacked jurisdiction to hear the suit after counsel for the appellant, Adebayo Adelodun, withdrew the earlier notice of appeal that was filed within time.

At the resumed hearing, Adelodun, who represented the appellant and Babayemi informed the court that he sought to withdraw the earlier notice of appeal to replace it with the fresh application he filed.

But the panel held that Section 285(11) of the constitution stipulated that an appeal on a pre-election matter must be filed within 14 days from the day of the decision, and that having filed the second appeal out of time, the apex court lacked jurisdiction to entertain the matter.

Justice Augie, therefore, dismissed the appeal for lack of jurisdiction.

Babayemi had asked the court to invalidate the primary election that produced the governor-elect, citing non-compliance with a court order.

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400 Staff To Lose Jobs As BBC Goes Digital

The British Broadcasting Corporation BBC world service has on Thursday disclosed that about 400 of its staff will lose their jobs as part of a cost-cutting programme and move to digital platforms,

The BBC said its international services needed to make savings of £28.5 million ($31 million) as part of wider reductions of £500 million.

In July it detailed plans to merge BBC World News television and its domestic UK equivalent into a single channel to launch in April next year.

BBC World Service currently operates in 40 languages around the world with a weekly audience of some 364 million people.

But the corporation said audience habits were changing and more people were accessing news online, which along with a freeze on BBC funding and increased operating costs meant a move to “digital-first” made financial sense.

BBC World Service director Liliane Landor said there was a “compelling case” for expanding digital services, as audiences had more than doubled since 2018.

“The way audiences are accessing news and content is changing and the challenge of reaching and engaging people around the world with quality, trusted journalism is growing,” she added.

 

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Environment

Hurricane Ian: Cities flooded and power cut as storm crosses Florida

Hurricane Ian: Cities flooded and power cut as storm crosses Florida

Hurricane Ian made landfall at around 15:10 local time (19:10 GMT) on Wednesday, smashing into the coast with wind speeds of up to 241km/h (150mph).

Dramatic scenes saw a hospital roof blown off, cars submerged and trees ripped out of the ground.

The category four hurricane was later downgraded to a tropical storm.

However, Floridians were warned that the most dangerous 24 hours lay ahead and the mayor of Tampa urged people to shelter in place through the night into Thursday morning.

“We are going to get the majority of the rain and the higher winds starting about 20:00, and they are going to last throughout the night,” Jane Castor said during a Wednesday evening briefing.

In a message posted on Facebook, the Weather Prediction Center told residents in the Central Florida Peninsula to expect “widespread life-threatening, catastrophic flash and urban flooding” continuing into Friday morning, with potentially up to 76cm (30ins) of rain falling locally.

Residents were ordered to leave their homes, but many have decided to remain and seek shelter indoors.

Mark Pritchett, who lives in the city of Venice, some 95km (60 miles) south of Tampa, described the “terrifying” moment he stepped outside his home as the hurricane made its way across the Gulf of Mexico.

“Rain shooting like needles. My street is a river,” he said in a text message to the Associated Press news agency.

In Lee County – the south-west region where Ian made landfall – police were prevented from responding to reports of looting at a petrol station because of the storm damage.

As a result, a curfew has been declared “until further notice”.

Lee County Manager Roger Desjarlais said that the Fort Myers community had “been – to some extent – decimated”. According to news agency AFP, some neighbourhoods in the city of 80,000 had been left resembling lakes.

State Governor Ron DeSantis described Ian as the “biggest flood event” south-west Florida had ever seen, and announced that 7,000 National Guard troops are ready to lead rescue operations in flood zones.

President Joe Biden will receive a briefing on Thursday from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Ian is now continuing to move north through Florida. Jacksonville International Airport, based in north-east Florida, cancelled all flights scheduled for Thursday.

The storm is forecast to emerge into the Atlantic by Thursday morning.

It is expected to reach Georgia and South Carolina on Friday. Virginia has also joined Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Florida by declaring a state of emergency.

Cuba’s western coast was hit by Hurricane Ian on Tuesday. Power has now been restored in some areas after the island was plunged into a total blackout. Two people are understood to have been killed in Cuba and more than 20 Cuban migrants are believed to be missing at sea.

Predicted path of Hurricane Ian. Updated 27 September

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