Freedom of Information

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  • Feb.25.2016: The Government Is Blocking Our Right to Find Out Their Plans for the NHS. Jeremy Hunt and his NHS-privatising friends are using the idea of "safe spaces" to refuse Freedom of Information requests. The Department of Health is trying to hide details of meetings between Jeremy Hunt and his ministers with leading NHS privatisers in what they call a "safe space" beyond the Freedom of Information Act. In 2010, the government announced they would release details of Ministers' meetings, called "Transparency Data", on a quarterly basis. In 2015, data on Health Ministers' meetings was badly delayed, before finally being released as part of huge govt "data dumps" in the days before Christmas, which included bad news about cuts to services, new policies and so on. Critics said the govt was trying to "bury bad news" in a "blizzard of information so that embarrassing news is hidden in the avalanche". Vice News waded through that avalanche and put in 8 separate FoI requests for more information about Health Ministers' meetings with health privatisation companies like Virgin Care. We received a single response for all the separate inquiries. The answer was, basically, "no": the govt would not release any documents relating to the meetings. Officials decided that "the balance of public interest is against disclosure" in every case because "there is a very strong public interest in ensuring that there is a safe space within which Ministers and senior officials are able to discuss issues freely and frankly. Putting this information in the public domain would mean that officials may be impeded from offering full and frank advice in the future, potentially resulting in poorer decision making and public services." In other words: the public can't know what we said in case they don't like it. This is a safe space from democracy. Now, in a concerted attempt to tame the Freedom of Information Act, the govt has started to use the idea of "safe spaces". In Jul.2015, the govt set up a "Commission to Review the Freedom of Information Act".[1] Central to the commission was the idea of the "safe space". The terms of reference for the Commission say they should consider "whether the operation of the Act adequately recognises the need for a 'safe space' for policy development and implementation and frank advice". The commission has been heavily criticised because it includes Jack Straw, a former Labour minister who had a very poor record on FoI when he was in office.[2] In Sept.2015, Jeremy Hunt met with unnamed executives from Ramsay Healthcare for an "introductory discussion". Ramsay Healthcare is Australia's biggest health operator, but since 2007 it has been trying to grow in Britain by winning NHS privatisation contracts. According to Ramsay UK's latest annual report, "Growth continues to be driven by NHS volumes, which now account for 73.4% of admissions". In other words: the firm is almost entirely dependent on taking operations from out of NHS hospitals and into their facilities. In Sept.2015, Health Minister David Prior had an "introductory meeting" with Graham Eccles and Bart Johnson of Virgin Care. Lord Prior is Minister for NHS "productivity". He is in charge of "overall commissioning policy" for the NHS and all NHS finance – that is, he is the key minister for NHS privatisation. Richard Branson's Virgin Care has been chasing NHS contracts since 2010. Health Minister Lord Prior met Virgin Care's Chairman, Graham Eccles – a former train manager who helps run Virgin Trains – and their Chief Executive Bart Johnson. In Jan.2016, a few months after meeting Prior, Virgin Care won a £126m, 4-year contract to run NHS hospitals. Management Consultants from KPMG have been instrumental in driving forward NHS privatisation. In Jun.2015, Jeremy Hunt had a meeting with unnamed officials from KPMG for a "Catch Up Discussion on global health". In Jun.2015, Health Minister David Prior had two meetings with KPMG. The Department of Health would not say which KPMG execs met Jeremy Hunt, but they did say that Mark Britnell, Chairman of KPMG's "Global Health Practice", led the delegation to meet Lord Prior. In case there's any doubt that KPMG want an American-style, privatised health service, Britnell told investors at a 2009 US health investment conference that "In future, the NHS will be a state insurance provider, not a state deliverer." Britnell also said, "The NHS will be shown no mercy," as its work is taken over by private firms, according to a brochure for the conference published by the Observer. Britnell said his comments had been taken out of context. Parker and Amos were also at that meeting. take this apart and put the right bits in the right places. Solomon Hughes, Vice News.
  • Sept.07.2010: The roots of Blair's hostility to Freedom of Information. That Tony Blair regrets introducing the Freedom of Information Act has been known for some time. But the force with which he reproaches himself in his new autobiography for doing so is truly remarkable. "Freedom of Information. Three harmless words. I look at those words as I write them, and feel like shaking my head till it drops off my shoulders. You idiot. You naive, foolish, irresponsible nincompoop. There is really no description of stupidity, no matter how vivid, that is adequate. I quake at the imbecility of it. ..." (Follow the links). Maurice Frankel, openDemocracy.


  1. ^ Freedom of information: new Commission. The Commission will be chaired by Lord Burns, and will comprise the Rt Hon Jack Straw, Lord Howard of Lympne, Lord Carlile of Berriew and Dame Patricia Hodgson. The Prime Minister has also confirmed that policy responsibility for Freedom of Information policy will transfer from the Ministry of Justice to the Cabinet Office. This change will be effective from Jul.17.2015. Lord Bridges, Cabinet Office,, Jul.17.2015.
  2. ^ Independent Commission on Freedom of Information report. The Commission found that Parliament intended the Executive to be able to have the final say as to whether information should be released under the Act. The govt will in future only deploy the veto after an Information Commissioner decision. The govt agrees with the Commission’s analysis that considering the public interest remains the best way to assess whether specific risk assessments should be released. This will allow the important balance between providing robust protection for sensitive information and transparency to be maintained. Cabinet Office,, Feb.29.2016.