The Society of Editors has expressed concern after the Local Government Association called for councils to be freed from the “unnecessary burdens” of freedom of information requests during the coronavirus crisis.
Responding to a report in the Wolverhampton daily, the Express & Star, Ian Murray, Executive Director of the Society of Editors said that the pandemic should not be used as a means by which local councils avoid scrutiny.
He said: “While the Society appreciates that under the current circumstances council resources will be inevitably stretched, it is important that where possible the principle of transparency and openness is not lost during this crisis.
“At a time of national uncertainty, the public has a right to know what decisions are being taken by local councils in their name and now more than ever such decisions must be open to scrutiny.”
“The Society will seek clarification on what any relaxing of rules might mean in practice and will work to ensure that Freedom of Information is maintained throughout this period.”
The Local Government Authority has said that as councils lead local efforts to tackle the coronavirus and protect the vulnerable, they will need to re-prioritise certain public services. The LGA, which represents councils in England and Wales, has published a briefing on the measures contained in the Bill and has called for an additions to the Bill including relaxing the requirements on councils regarding GDPR and FOI.
Ian Hudspeth, chairman of the Local Government Association’s community wellbeing board, has called for local councils to be freed of FOI constraints.
He said: “Councils are stepping up to play their role in supporting the national effort to tackle the coronavirus.
“Acting as a fourth emergency service, local government is prioritising the most vulnerable to ensure they have the support they need.
“This is essential work in the nation’s interests. Councils will step-up, but this emergency will stretch them and their teams to the maximum as it will all public services.
“Additional powers should be added to the legislation to further support councils in their efforts to tackle this emergency.”