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Friday, February 18, 2005

FOI request - NHSU Wells report - review request

Following the letter I recieved yesterday from the Department of Health (see Thurs 17th Feb ), refusing to publish the Wells report into the NHSu, I have today sent the following letter requesting a review of the decision.

Your Ref: TO6011201

Ms Jill Moorcroft

Freedom of Information

360C Skipton House

80 London Road

London SE1 6LH

18 February 2005

Dear Ms Moorcroft,

Further to my request for the publication, under the Freedom of Information Act, of the Wells Report on the NHSu, I received a letter dated 14th February stating that:

The Department has decided not to disclose the information you requested. The information is being withheld as it falls under the exemption in section 33 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000. A number of other exemptions apply to a lesser extent. In applying this exemption, we have had to balance the public interest in withholding the information against the public interest in disclosing the information. The attached annex to this letter sets out the exemption in full, as well as the factors the Department considered when deciding where the public interest lay."

I wish to request an internal review of this decision.

The department took considerably longer than the 20 working days allowed under the act to respond.

My understanding is that for section 33 to apply, the department needs to demonstrate that;

(a) disclosure is likely to prejudice the authority's auditing functions, and

(b) the public interest in avoiding that prejudice is greater than the public interest in disclosing the information concerned.

I do not feel that the Annex to the letter I received demonstrates this and suspect that the request has been refused as it may cause embarrassment rather than a genuine belief that information release may be harmful, particularly as the establishment of the NHSu was a significant pledge in the 2001 Labour manifesto.

The fact that John Hutton the Minister of State indicated on 9th November 2004 (Your Ref: PO5005693), that the Department intended to publish the information on the departments web site, indicates a strong public interest in disclosure and throws doubt on the suggestion that publication would be harmful.

Transparency in the way in which a large amount of taxpayers’ money is spent is surely in the public interest, and I would hope that publication of the report would be able to inform the establishment and management of future departmental bodies and enhance scrutiny and accountability.

I also do not understand the significance of statements in the Annex to my letter that:

“It is also a relevant factor in favour of disclosure that not all of the Report consists of comments or opinions which can be traced back to particular individuals.”

And the opposing view that:

“There are arguments as to why it might be inappropriate to disclose only some parts of the Report, which might give a misleading impression of its contents; and that the publication of any part of the Report might undermine the policy of encouraging candour.”

I would be happy if any names or comments which could identify an individual were removed.

For the above reasons I request that you review the decision not to disclose the contents of this report.

Yours sincerely,

Rod Ward


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