Written Evidence from Pete Rowberry (FOI 02)
I emailed the Home Office on 19/2/2020 asking for details of any economic impact assessment that had been undertaken before publishing the department’s latest immigration policy. On 18/3/2020, they responded that they did hold the information and allocated case reference 57872.
Some intermediate correspondence has not been traceable, but I emailed the Home Office some months later, a quote from which said "You may recall my request for information regarding the economic impact assessment of the Home Office immigration policy. You excused yourself from responding by saying you would be making this information public. I am still waiting for a response from the Information commissioner on whether this exemption has any limits, but in any case, you have now had plenty of time to do as you said. As far as I am aware, this information is yet to be published. Can you now respond, as you are required to do by the FoI Act, or come up with another excuse for withholding that information?”
Following my persistence, the information was finally released, and a copy was sent to me some time in September or October. I regard this as an excessive time to respond when the department concerned admit that the information is held by them and contend that the only reason for the delay is to minimise the impact of a contentious policy on public opinion. I asked the question “is there a time limit on the amount of time a department is allowed to publish information that they have withheld under Section 22 of the FOIA”, but do not recall receiving a response. Surely if there is no time limit, this exemption can be used to avoid releasing any information publicly which has the potential to be embarrassing to the government in power.
I contend that this is one of a number of areas where the FOIA needs to be updated to allow for true transparency in government.