“The government has spent two years and £40,000 of taxpayers’ money trying to hide how little the northern powerhouse minister visited the north of England in his role, in what one prominent northern figure called “a blatant disregard for the principles of democratic accountability”. …
The Information Commissioner’s Office then undertook an investigation, during the course of which it found that the department adopted “what appears to have been a strategy of wilful procrastination in order to obstruct a request for information”.
The DCLG appealed against the decision to the first-tier tribunal of information rights, where in early 2018 Judge Hazel Oliver ruled that the department must hand over Wharton’s diary.
From start to finish, the process took 26 months. …
Hidden in 111 pages of internal DCLG emails relating to the FoI request is a document headlined “Official – Sensitive” dating from March 2016 which includes official advice stating “there is a strong likelihood of a decision to withhold the requested information … being overturned”.
Legal experts are unimpressed. “It sounds like a classic: they knew they were likely to lose and still wasted time and money on it, and come out looking even worse,” said Paul Bernal, senior lecturer in law at the University of East Anglia.
Manchester-based data protection consultant Tim Turner said: “Departments have shown time and again that they’re very secretive about who ministers meet and what they do, and spending £40,000 to hide it doesn’t seem close to the spirit of open government.”
The information that the government tried to suppress for two years shows that Wharton rarely left London as part of his role as the north’s representative in government.
Of the 693 lines of entries in Wharton’s ministerial diary, just under half contain identifiable addresses or office rooms in the “Location” column. Ninety percent of them are based in London. …”