Martin Rosenbaum, Freedom of information specialist

Martin Rosenbaum Freedom of information specialist

My thoughts on freedom of information, the issues it raises, the changes it is causing, the stories that result – and what it means for you

If Neil Kinnock had become prime minister in 1992

10 April 2014

This has to be one of the more ironic disclosures I have received in response to a Freedom of Information request.

It is a document that was never used. It was prepared by the civil service in case the 1992 general election resulted in a Labour victory and Neil Kinnock became prime minister.

This is the front page of a set of procedural guidelines that would have been distributed to his ministerial team under his name, if his government had ever been formed - it has the initials NK at the bottom.

It is one of a number of official papers prepared for the possibility of a Kinnock premiership, which I have been trying to obtain under freedom of information.

Draft document on procedures for ministers from 1992

The Cabinet Office turned down my request for them, the Information Commissioner upheld this refusal for the bulk of the material, but instructed the Cabinet Office to release this particular document.

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Briefing papers not 'verbose' enough to be revealed

3 February 2014
Neil Kinnock, 1992
Neil Kinnock during the 1992 general election campaign

As a journalist who often makes freedom of information requests I have come across a range of reasons from public authorities for keeping documents secret.

However I have now encountered a new justification - official briefing papers that apparently cannot be shown to the public because they are too succinct and not verbose enough.

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Cabinet Office blamed for 'serious shortcomings' on FOI

24 January 2014
Cabinet Office, 70 Whitehall

The Cabinet Office is supposed to be leading the government's drive towards greater openness, but today it has been criticised by the Information Commissioner Christopher Graham for "serious shortcomings" in its handling of freedom of information requests.

Mr Graham says the Cabinet Office's poor performance is "particularly disappointing" and has announced today that it will now be subject to a period of intensive monitoring by his office to ensure improvement.

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Commissioner rejects case against releasing energy data

16 January 2014
Light switch

Tens of thousands of buildings across the UK which are visited by the public have to display energy efficiency certificates. The idea is to allow visitors to see the site's energy performance and provide an incentive for improvement.

But what if you want to compare the energy efficiency ratings of many different buildings to get an overall national analysis? It's far from easy to get the figures needed to do that.

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Ten vascular surgeons to have safety review

10 July 2013
Scrubbing in

Ten vascular surgeons are to have their work reviewed to investigate whether they have been performing operations at an acceptably safe level.

This follows the path-breaking publication of data on death rates for individual hospital consultants who conduct surgery on major blood vessels.

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Surgeon data will lead to alerts over high death rates

5 July 2013
Surgeons performing heart surgery

When data was released last week about the death rates for individual vascular surgeons, the report from the Royal College of Surgeons stressed reassuringly that "all surgeons are performing within the range expected".

Indeed each doctor named in the document was listed with a green triangle symbol to confirm this status.

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Month of birth affects chance of attending Oxbridge

27 February 2013
A woman cycles past Balliol College in Oxford

The likelihood of becoming a student at Oxford or Cambridge Universities can be strongly influenced by date of birth.

Last year the chance of someone born in October becoming an Oxbridge undergraduate was more than 30% higher than for someone born in July.

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Submariners punished for drunken misconduct

15 February 2013
HMS Astute

How serious is the problem of drunkenness and indiscipline within the Royal Navy's submarine service?

Figures obtained by the BBC show that there have been more than 300 disciplinary incidents in the past three years on the navy's 13 submarines, including 42 cases of misconduct or unfitness through alcohol or drugs.

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About Martin

BBC News specialist in using the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act.

Trains and advises BBC journalists on FOI, and has addressed international conferences on journalism and FOI. Some stories the BBC has produced using FOI can be found here.

Executive producer in the BBC Political Programmes department, overseeing a variety of radio programming.

Producer of radio documentaries on topics ranging from the inside story of Gordon Brown's premiership to the politics of The Simpsons.

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