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December 29, 2010

Tom Watson and his pricey FoI requests.

Tom Watson, Labour MP for West Bromwich East, proudly revealed today that he has submitted “over 3000″ Freedom of Information requests since the coalition came to power. He describes FoI requests as a ‘great tool’ for anyone who believes in greater transparency in government. I would agree; their introduction was one of Labour’s great achievements – despite what Blair said –  and I’m pleased that this coalition government are increasing governmental transparency standards even further. But the system needs to be used sensibly and with thought. I was instantly struck by the number of requests that Watson’s submitted. It seems that he has turned said useful tool into an unsustainably laborious and inefficient pet-project. An addiction, even. It wasn’t long before Ian Birrell, former deputy editor of the Independent, popped up on Twitter with the below:

If you take those figures slightly further, assuming he were to continue at his current rate, that equates to over £1.3 million a year. If every MP was to mis-use the system as much as he has, you could multiply that £1.3 million figure by 650. You’d be looking at an annual Freedom of Information bill – just for MP’s requests – of nearly £850 million of taxpayers’ money per annum, or over £4 billion in one parliament. Of course, I’m exaggerating, because most MPs use the system sensibly, but Watson’s fad has become an abhorrent waste of money.

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