The government is to appeal to the high court against a ruling that it must publish “gateway reviews” on the progress of its £5.3bn ID card scheme.
Earlier this month, the Information Tribunal upheld information commissioner Richard Thomas’s decision ordering the Office of Government Commerce to disclose its reviews of the ID card programme and the scheme’s “traffic light status” at the gateway review 1 stage, in line with requests made under the Freedom of Information Act.
The tribunal decision was expected to allow greater public scrutiny as the ID card project develops.
But the OGC has filed an appeal in the high court, arguing that disclosure would seriously undermine the gateway review process, which it uses to monitor major public sector projects.
A spokesperson said: “OGC welcomes the Information Tribunal’s findings that OGC had correctly identified that the information requested fell within qualified exemptions from the duty to disclose automatically under the Freedom of Information Act.
“However, it does not agree with the tribunal’s findings on where the public interest lies in relation to what information should be disclosed and what it is appropriate to withhold.”
The gateway review process had helped save more than £2.5bn on major public sector projects, the spokesperson said, adding: “In the government’s view, disclosure would seriously undermine the effectiveness of the gateway process, as confidentiality is essential to the whole process.”
It was “not in the public interest to put that effectiveness at risk” through the disclosure of the information on the ID card reviews requested in the Freedom of Information Act case, he said.
The OGC had originally opposed the information commissioner’s order to disclose the ID card review information, citing two exemptions in the act covering audit functions and the formulation and development of government policy.
It argued that disclosure would fundamentally undermine the gateway review process because those involved would not be as frank in expressing their views and commercial organisations might not wish to be involved.
The information commissioner disagreed, ruling that disclosure would not discourage future co-operation by those providing information to the OGC. Thomas also found that the public interest arguments for disclosing the information were more persuasive than those put forward for keeping the information secret.
In its verdict upholding Thomas’s ruling, the tribunal said the OGC’s call for a “safe space” to protect information in the early stages of policy formulation could not be justified, because at the time of the requests for information the ID cards bill was being debated in parliament.
The OGC’s claim that disclosure – or even the possibility of disclosure - would have “grave consequences” was overstated, the tribunal ruled.