Cambridge Colleges ask government to be exempt from Freedom of Information Act

Laurence Tidy, Deputy News Editor 19 March 2012

Colleges at the University of Cambridge have asked the government that they no longer have to comply with Freedom of Information (FOI) laws.

In a joint submission to the Justice Committee, the colleges ask to be removed from the Freedom of Information Act 2000, which they consider “anomalous”, claiming that their involvement in the act leads to undesirable and unnecessary costs.

The Act, currently being reviewed by the government, was brought into force in 2000 and makes provision “for the disclosure of information held by public authorities or by persons providing services for them”.

The University is currently accountable to the Act, as is each college individually.

In the submission, the Colleges claim that: “The inclusion of the colleges (on which they were not consulted before the passage of the Act) is anomalous”.

They go on to complain that the FOI Act “throws expenditure onto the charitable resources of the colleges without any support from public funds”.

Concerning the efficiency of the Act, the submission states: “Many requests are from journalists and are in the nature of speculative enquiries seeking a story by using the public authority concerned as a free research resource.”

Richard Taylor, a Cambridge administrator for the website WhatDoTheyKnow.com, warned that: “If colleges were exempt from FOI, this would dent the ability of students – their members – to effectively hold them to account.”

The website, WhatDoTheyKnow.com, deals with Freedom of Information requests from those wanting to “find out inside information” about public authorities. Responses from the public authority in question are then published openly on the site.

Mr Taylor stated that: “In Cambridge the colleges play such a central role in the university, I do not think it is possible to separate them from it; therefore both the university and the colleges ought to remain subject to FOI.”

According to Mr Taylor, the Colleges are in receipt of public funding, though indirectly, and cited a FOI request he made to Clare College concerning the “Backs Committee” last year.

The submission of the colleges, however, reads: ” are registered charities not in receipt of public funding.”

Laurence Tidy, Deputy News Editor