Take out the trash day

The Cabinet Office website shows that 150 documents were released over 30-31 March, more than in the previous 44 days and beating the previous record, set exactly a year ago, when there was a data dump of 120 documents just before the recess.

What has been hidden in plain sight? – Owl

UK ministers ‘trying to avoid scrutiny’ by releasing 150 documents in 48 hours

Pippa Crerar www.theguardian.com 

Labour has accused ministers of being “desperate to avoid scrutiny” after government departments published a record number of “transparency disclosures” over a 48-hour period before parliament rose for the Easter break.

The Cabinet Office website shows that 150 documents were released over 30-31 March, more than in the previous 44 days and beating the previous record, set exactly a year ago, when there was a data dump of 120 documents just before the recess.

The information released on what is known at Westminster as “take out the trash” day included Rishi Sunak spending more than £500,000 of taxpayers’ money on flights in two weeks as he travelled to Egypt, Indonesia, Latvia and Estonia on official business.

In a letter to the Cabinet Office minister, Oliver Dowden, Labour’s deputy leader, Angela Rayner, said: “If this flood of disclosures is in fact a function of anything, it is of a government so desperate to avoid scrutiny of its record, its performance, and its spending, that it somehow believes all that can be avoided by deluging the email inboxes of Westminster with all of this data at once.”

Rayner added: “We have already seen many of the facts which the government tried to bury in the last 48 hours exposed … and there will doubtless be more to come over the days ahead.

“But one fact lies most clearly exposed of all. Rishi Sunak has proved too weak to deliver on his promise that his government would be based on the principles of integrity, professionalism and accountability.

“Otherwise, he would not be instructing his ministers to rush out the evidence of their multiple failures and colossal waste at the start of the Easter break in the hope that no one will notice.”

In the documents released, the government also revealed that 1.4bn items of personal protective equipment bought during the pandemic and disposed of by the government were burned, including 570m aprons and 450m face masks.

Another document showed that the sovereign grant for King Charles, which pays for the monarch’s official duties, had been frozen at £86m for the third year in a row.

Meanwhile, ministers and officials have been warned off using the “disappearing messages” function on WhatsApp, which many special advisers and MPs had done in the wake of the Matt Hancock messages row.

Gifts received by Sunak and Liz Truss – including food hampers and England football shirts – were revealed in the tranche of releases, as well as the fact that the present and former prime ministers had been taken out for dinner by the Sun newspaper and Rupert Murdoch.

However, they also showed that Kwasi Kwarteng received no gifts or registered hospitality during his brief stint as chancellor, and made one foreign visit to the US – the trip when he heard about his imminent sacking on the way home from the airport.

A Cabinet Office spokesperson said: “This government is absolutely committed to transparency, which is why we routinely disclose information beyond what is legally required, so that journalists and members of the public can scrutinise our work.

“The end of the financial year often means that a large number of annual publications, on top of regular monthly documents, need to be published.”