FOI failings at the heart of government

Cabinet Office

Some major government departments have a record of frequent and persistent delays and unhelpfulness in their handling of Freedom of Information (FOI) requests.

This is clear from a new BBC analysis of decisions issued in the past two years by the Information Commissioner's Office which has repeatedly condemned the Cabinet Office, Home Office and Ministry of Justice for their "poor", "disappointing" and "unacceptable" treatment of FOI applications.

And it raises questions about whether the Information Commissioner, Elizabeth Denham, is taking a tough enough approach to enforcing the law on these important departments at the heart of government, beyond criticising their processes in individual complaints.

Information obtained by the BBC from the Information Commissioner's Office also shows that the Cabinet Office and the Home Office are the two public authorities in the country with the worst record of failure on timely cooperation with the commissioner's investigations.

The Information Commissioner's Office has the legal power to issue "information notices" against public bodies which are failing to provide material needed to assess complaints against them. Since May 2015 it has issued these formal notices in 50 completed cases. Fifteen were against the Cabinet Office and 11 the Home Office. So the two departments accounted for more than half these measures against particularly uncooperative public authorities.


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Local voting figures shed new light on EU referendum

EU referendum voting night

The BBC has obtained a more localised breakdown of votes from nearly half of the local authorities which counted EU referendum ballots last June.

This information provides much greater depth and detail in explaining the pattern of how the UK voted. The key findings are:

The national picture


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CIA fears about 1980s Labour 'threat' revealed

Denis Healey
Image caption Denis Healey was accused in the papers of attacking US policies

The Labour Party is "in the hands of urban leftists given to ideological extremes with only fringe appeal".

That isn't an assertion about today's politics. It was the verdict of the US Central Intelligence Agency on Labour back in 1985, in a memo for the agency's director on the early phase of Neil Kinnock's leadership.

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New commissioner sets out FOI plans

Elizabeth Denham Image copyright ICO

The UK has already placed its monetary policy in the hands of a Canadian, the Bank of England governor Mark Carney.

Now it's going to fall to another Canadian to decide whether the British government's secrets should indeed remain secret.

Read full article New commissioner sets out FOI plans

How pharmacists push NHS services

Pharmacy shelves

Documents obtained by the BBC reveal the techniques used by large pharmacy companies to maximise their income from providing certain services for the NHS in England.

The NHS pays pharmacies for extra services on top of the essential functions laid down in their basic contract. But questions have been raised about whether staff are pressurised into over-prioritising these opportunities to boost revenue or may treat them as a lucrative but perfunctory box-ticking exercise.

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Treasury has the youngest officials

Treasury building

"Work with some of the country's brightest people." That's the slogan enticing job applicants on the recruitment pages of the Treasury's website.

So the clever folk running the nation's finances are clearly not keen on modesty - but are they lacking in maturity?

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Ethnic dimension to Birmingham's vote

Detailed voting data from Birmingham sheds extra light on the EU referendum result. It confirms that Leave support was strongly linked to local populations who were older and had lower educational qualifications, but also shows that the city's ethnic minority areas were more likely to support Remain.

Birmingham council is one of very few authorities that have so far published their referendum voting figures broken down by local wards. The BBC will be trying to obtain this information from as many councils as possible. Data at this level can add more local detail to the national pattern, particularly when comparing it to ward statistics from the 2011 census.

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'Jihadi John' death at centre of dispute

Mohammed Emwazi Image copyright Unknown

Mohammed Emwazi, the British jihadist who featured in beheading videos by so-called Islamic State and became known as "Jihadi John", is dead, according to, amongst others, Barack Obama and IS's own publication.

On the other hand, maybe he isn't dead, according to the University of Westminster in London, where he was a student, and the Information Commissioner's Office.

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Farage should be used 'sparingly' by Leave campaigners

Nigel Farage Image copyright Getty Images

UKIP leader Nigel Farage takes part alongside David Cameron in Tuesday's ITV special debate on the EU, but research from his own supporters questions his helpfulness to their cause.

Mr Farage should only be used "sparingly" when Brexit campaigners target blue-collar workers, because of his potential to alienate voters with "a divisive or reactionary tone on issues like immigration". That's according to a report produced for his own allies.

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Revealed: The Bush-Major conversations

President George H.W.Bush and John Major in 1991
Image caption The two leaders discussed foreign affairs and their own domestic troubles

Sir John Major and George Bush senior overlapped in power between late 1990 and early 1993, and their close relationship is illustrated by transcripts of conversations obtained by the BBC.

It's tough at the top, whether you're the British prime minister or the US president, and it can be an irritating nuisance having to fight elections to stay there.

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