Take a bow please, transparency campaigner John Greenwood. This could become huge.
Mr Greenwood has been campaigning for Bolton Council to make public the outside business dealings of its senior town hall staff. He asked for details held on the council’s register of interests in a request under the Freedom of Information Act, but was refused, so he took his case to the Information Commissioner and has won.
As the Bolton News reports:
The commissioner has now ruled that the details of the register of interests should be released. The register records the name of council officers and any personal interests they have, such as ownership of property, family associations, business interests, shareholdings and membership of organisations that may conflict with their decision-making role.
Mr Greenwood said: “This is a major victory for the public and those wanting open, transparent governance over Bolton Council who sought to keep the status quo of secrecy.”
If there is nothing to hide then there is nothing to fear, right? That’s what we keep being told by government at all levels. So it comes as no surprise to learn that the public servants in Bolton do not want the public to know anything about the dealings of those who are charged with serving their interests and are seeking advice with a view to appealing the matter.
MPs and Councillors already have to declare interests and memberships so the public can see if their decision making is being influenced by a desire to seek advantage for themselves or their friends and contacts, so why not Council Officers? After all it is the officers who work up proposals and make recommendations for Councillors to decide upon and it is officers who are responsible for decisions that affect the local community and involve spending public money. This has been a black hole for years, but now there is finally hope that the floodlights can illuminate the darkest corners of town halls up and down the country.
Mr Greenwood’s victory could be a real gamechanger and make Freedom of Information request a more powerful tool. The prospect is mouthwatering. Imagine for a moment what would happen if Council Officers – and by extension civil servants in other branches of government – had to release the details of business dealings with developers, or reveal relationships with organisations such as Common Purpose – which Mr Greenwood tried to do in 2009. There is so much that could be uncovered that would reveal to the public how government really works.