Public Access to Information: An Evaluation of the Local Government (Access to Information) Act
The Local Government (Access to Information) Act, 1985, provided the public, press and elected members with new rights of access to documents about the policies and practices of local authorities. It also extended the number of meetings of local authorities and some other public bodies which are open to the public and to the press. The aim of the Act was to reinforce the accountability of local authorities and other public bodies by encouraging public access to information about their decision-making and performance, enabling the public to challenge and add to the information used by councillors as a basis for decision-making. The Act was unusual in giving statutory rights of access to information, and is therefore important to the debate about freedom of information, open government and public participation.
This study aims to evaluate how successfully the Act operates in practice, its value to the public, the press and elected members, and its impact on the work of local authorities. It
- investigates the steps taken by local authorities to meet the requirements of the Act in the context of their overall information provision for the public
- considers the impact of the Act on the workings and structure of committees, including the classification of confidential information, the handling of emergency cases, the decision-making process and others
- gives an indication of the cost implications for local authorities in taking steps to meet the requirements of the Act
- measures the extent to which the public and press have taken up their new rights of access and discovers what sort of information is most commonly sought, and
- investigates the flows of information within councils, between officers and members and between leading and opposition councillors.