Grant Woodward: We’ll no longer know the stuff they don’t want us to know

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REMEMBER when all those thousands of people packed into Headingley Stadium only got a fleeting glimpse of the Olympic torch because the London 2012 organisers were worried the pitchside advertising would annoy their sponsors?

REMEMBER when all those thousands of people packed into Headingley Stadium only got a fleeting glimpse of the Olympic torch because the London 2012 organisers were worried the pitchside advertising would annoy their sponsors?

Then there was the extortionate bill racked up by Yorkshire Ambulance Service because it had to send private ambulances to answer 999 calls when they ran out of their own. We taxpayers copped for that, of course.

And how about the cost of this recent public inquiry into trolleybus? The inspector alone sent an invoice for over £150,000 for his time. Nice work if you can get it, eh?

We know all these things thanks to this newspaper.

But the YEP is only able to tell you exactly how your money is being spent – or why you waited two hours for a five-second glimpse of the Olympic torch – because of something called the Freedom of Information Act.

FoI was introduced by the Labour government in 2005 – and overnight it helped make our democracy more worthy of the name.

It forces government, councils, the NHS, schools, armed forces and emergency services to make information available on request.

It’s how we know the Queen and Prince Charles received £1m in EU farming subsidies in the space of two years.

That a shocking 8,000 NHS patients a week were being discharged in the middle of the night.

And that our MPs claimed £1,645 in expenses for a duck house, £39 for one breakfast, and 46 of them charged the public purse for London rent or hotels, despite owning a house there.

This is an Act that shines a light into the darkest corners of the corridors of power.

And, as American judge Louis Brandeis famously said, “Sunlight is the best of disinfectants”.

So it probably won’t surprise you to learn that the Tory government seems desperate to derail it.

Their Independent Commission on Freedom of Information is currently gathering information for a 10-year review of the Act.
It’s widely feared that it’s the first step in an attempt to weaken FoI by adding new restrictions on the release of information, strengthening the power of ministers to refuse to make data public and charging people to lodge a request.

In short, it’s the opening shot in an assault on democracy and our right to know what the powers that be are up to.

The Government’s excuse for doing this is that the Freedom of Information Act costs too much money.

So how much does the bill add up to exactly? Less than £6m a year – or 0.001 per cent of the £577bn central Government is due to spend this year. By way of comparison, the Government spends nearly £300m a year on its PR.

And what about all the money that FoI saves?

The fact that it highlights wasteful spending and shames those who fritter away the public’s hard-earned cash means they’re less likely to do it.

When FoI laws were first introduced, journalists exposed councils who spent hefty sums of money taking their councillors and senior officials away on expensive junkets.

That sort of abuse of the public purse has slowed down as a result of FoI, but it hasn’t stopped completely.

Only yesterday it was revealed (thanks to an FoI of course) that the chief of Humberside Police was given £39,000 just to move house.

It’s why we must all defend the Freedom of Information Act and make sure those who govern us stay accountable to the people who pay their wages – us.

So please do your bit by putting tinyurl.com/q8km6c3 into your browser and adding your name to the 105,000 who have already signed the petition to do just that.

Is it time to let athletes dope?

FUNNILY enough, because the bloke’s usually entirely trustworthy and above board, no one’s buying Vladimir Putin’s rant that the allegations of state-sponsored doping is part of the West’s vendetta against Russia.

But the question is, what are the rest of the world going to do about it?

The thing is, I’ve long watched athletics with the same mindset I reserve for WWE wrestling.

It’s fun to get swept along in the excitement of an Olympics, but first you’ve to silence the part of you that screams that it’s all a bit of a pantomime and you shouldn’t believe everything you see.

After all, when female athletes start growing neck muscles wider than their heads and talking like Barry White, it should start sounding a few alarm bells.

But the trouble is that the blokes in white coats are always one step ahead of the drug testers.

Every time the good guys uncover a banned substance, the bad guys churn out a new one they can’t detect.

That’s got to be soul-destroying for all the clean athletes who rely on skill and sheer bloody hard work to haul themselves on to the medal podium.

So how about chucking the rules out of the window and letting athletes take whatever they fancy in a bid to be higher, faster and longer?

At least that way we’d know they were all on a level playing field.

The fact I’ve even suggested that shows just how low athletics has sunk.

Players got Stuart the sack

ENGLAND’S World Cup was a complete shambles. Sorry, I need to be more specific don’t I?

I’m talking about the rugby union one that saw us become the first host country not to get out of the pool stages.

But it was wrong that Leeds-based coach Stuart Lancaster had to jump before he get the chop for it.

Yes, he had a bit of a wobble when he ditched fly half George Ford for Owen Farrell, but if it hadn’t been for two almighty clangers by his players, his gamble against Wales would have paid off.

First centre Brad Barritt rushed up to make a tackle and got out of position, allowing the Welsh to score. Then dimwit captain Chris Robshaw passed up a shot of goal that would have seen us make the quarter finals.

Then there’s the fact that the Aussies, who beat us on the way to the final, allowed their coach to pick foreign-based players, but Lancaster wasn’t.

It’s why the bloke deserved at least one more Six Nations to get it right.