by RAY FLEMING
BRITAIN'S Freedom of Information Act is proving to be beneficial in many unexpected ways. At first it seemed sufficient that it gave access to documents and reports that previously would have been routinely stamped Confidential and filed in dusty archives beyond public access -- whether or not their contents justified such secrecy. But with the help of a robust Information Commissioner inclined to give the benefit of the doubt to someone requesting information rather than to a civil servant trying to withhold it, all kinds of formerly hidden information is being made available to those who make a serious application to see it. A recent case was of a newspaper which unearthed police notes in a murder case that may help to overturn a conviction leading to seventeen years in prison. New guidelines from the Information Commissioner will open information about the salaries paid with public money -ranging from how much BBC radio and TV presenters get paid from the TV licence fee to the salaries of civil servants and the expenses of MPs. The staff of banks which have received a substantial bail-out will also be covered by the guidelines. Thirty years ago it was possible to discover how much a senior civil servant was paid by reference to his or her grade; today the precise amount is hidden under perfomance-related pay and bonuses - yes, in the civil service! It's public money and the public should have the right to know how it's being spent.