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

Where is Network Rail going on the transparency train?

Rail maintenance workers

Closures of level crossings, the cost of station refurbishments, levels of executive pay, more detailed measures of train performance - these are some of the topics which Network Rail thinks it will be asked about once it is covered by the Freedom of Information Act. That's according to the company's head of transparency, Mark Farrow, who is in charge of its preparations.

Network Rail, which maintains and operates Britain's rail infrastructure, expects to be subject to FOI from April next year and is planning on that assumption. The government has not yet issued the relevant regulations, but the justice minister Simon Hughes has made clear his determination to do so.

Mr Farrow is keen to assert that Network Rail is perfectly happy with this change, despite reported claims to the contrary. "Much as faceless individuals in the outside world want to present us as being dragged kicking and screaming into this and that we want to delay it, that's not the case", he maintains. "I say this from a position of knowledge, because I'm running it."

'Political side'

He and his colleagues are well aware of the political sensitivities. Labour's shadow transport minister Mary Creagh has complained that the timing means that FOI requests may not be answered before the general election on 7 May 2015.

"This has a political side as well," says Mr Farrow, "but quite frankly, let the politicians do the politics and let Simon Hughes talk about his credit for making this happen, we'll just get on with doing it and making sure we can respond to requests as part of our overall transparency agenda."

Trains on Chelsea Bridge

Read full article Where is Network Rail going on the transparency train?

New top job in Whitehall attracts only 13 applicants

Whitehall sign

Only 13 people applied for the newly created post of chief executive of the civil service.

This follows complaints that the new position lacks sufficient authority, has confusing lines of accountability, and is not paid enough to attract the interest of many high flyers from the private sector.

Read full article New top job in Whitehall attracts only 13 applicants

Simon Hughes spells out his pre-election FOI plans

Simon Hughes

Should it be a state secret how often cabinet committees meet?

"I wouldn't have thought so," says Simon Hughes, the coalition minister responsible for freedom of information policy.

Read full article Simon Hughes spells out his pre-election FOI plans

How do restaurant chains compare for food hygiene?

Cooked chicken

Around one in three of the fast food outlets trading under the names of Dixy Chicken and Chicken Cottage failed to meet satisfactory levels for food hygiene when they were last inspected.

This is revealed in a BBC analysis of recent inspection data collated by the Food Standards Agency.

Read full article How do restaurant chains compare for food hygiene?

The energy secrets of MI6 headquarters

MI6 headquarters

Now here's a public service which seems to have a very good record of improving the energy efficiency of its headquarters over the past two years.

You might think that they would want to boast about it, but in this case it's secret and you're not meant to know.

Read full article The energy secrets of MI6 headquarters

If Neil Kinnock had become prime minister in 1992

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.

Read full article If Neil Kinnock had become prime minister in 1992

Briefing papers not 'verbose' enough to be revealed

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.

Read full article Briefing papers not 'verbose' enough to be revealed

Cabinet Office blamed for 'serious shortcomings' on FOI

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.

Read full article Cabinet Office blamed for 'serious shortcomings' on FOI

Commissioner rejects case against releasing energy data

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.

Read full article Commissioner rejects case against releasing energy data

Ten vascular surgeons to have safety review

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.

Read full article Ten vascular surgeons to have safety review

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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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