Council officials have apologised after staff produced a 425-page Freedom of Information response with every page blacked out. The reply is as thick as a telephone when printed but contains page after page of large black rectangles blocking all key information. The 425-page document was put together by staff at Brentwood Council in Essex after they received questions about a multi-million pound deal to build a cinema.
Under Freedom of Information laws, local authorities are obliged to provide the public with requested information about how money is spent or how decisions are made. But the details that did pass the censor's pen included: "Hi Neil, [redacted] I trust this is helpful and thank you for your assistance. Steve Boyle." The FOI was originally submitted by local councillor Russell Quirk, 44, from Brentwood, after he became concerned taxpayers could be being short-changed in a deal to build a multiscreen cinema on council land.
The response took him half an hour to print and used a complete black ink cartridge. He said: "I find it ironic that on Brentwood Council's website it claims to have a 'reputation as one of the most transparent councils in the country'. This really is a slap in the face to that claim. I understand that some information has to be held back but what I do not understand is how all 425 pages can be deemed 'not in the public interest'. It must have taken a substantial amount of office time to redact all those pages."
Council officials said much of the information contained in the document had to be redacted as it was deemed commercially sensitive and releasing it would not be in the public interest. A Brentwood Council spokesperson said: "We're sorry that it was necessary to provide all the redacted pages in the document but it was our understanding that this is what was seen as good practice by the Information Commissioner. We needed to redact some information because some matters are commercially sensitive or are subject to legal privilege. But we continue to monitor this information and we will be sending more when we can."