Editor's Comment

8th July 2005 at 01:00
With Labour able to enjoy an overall majority in the House of Commons with just 37 per cent of the popular vote, it might be naive to expect government departments to be too concerned about accountability.

Even if we cannot realistically expect every aspect of government policy to meet the aspirations of ordinary people, we are entitled to expect one thing as an absolute right: open government.

Last week, Mike Foster, the Labour MP for Worcester, asked for a copy of a report on the funding gap between schools and colleges.

The document, compiled by the Learning and Skills Development Agency for the Learning and Skills Council, was completed in mid-March.

Needless to say, it has not arrived.

The sovereignty of Parliament may seem a quaint and old-fashioned concept as we continue with the European project but, to those who value what is left of our ancient democracy, the discourtesy done to Mr Foster is a discourtesy to the entire nation.

This is more than a matter of principle.

Colleges, unions and students are entitled to see the document. The subject material will have more impact on them than on the salaried minions of government who have been able to read it at their leisure since March.

While colleges understood the funding gap to be 10 per cent, the report is believed to put the figure at up to 14 per cent - or even higher - suggesting the debate about the funding gap, both inside and outside Parliament, has been based on false assumptions. The LSC intends to sit on the report until it is ready to publish it as part of its pronouncements on Agenda for Change at the end of July , when colleges and Parliament will be on holiday .

We should not rush to blame the LSC for this breathtaking abuse of public information.

It may be the Department for Education and Skills, rather than the LSC, that is calling the shots.

The Freedom of Information Act, which some may believe was created in the spirit of open government, contains a clause which allows information to be withheld if it is "intended for publication".

But ministers should understand that the argument for open government is moral rather than legal. The Government has treated this report, which is of enormous importance to everybody in colleges, as its own intellectual property.

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