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Listen: The Debrief – why does transparency matter, and is the council getting any better at it?

It’s almost six months since the Cable asked why Bristol’s performance on FOI requests was so poor. As the city’s political system prepares for change, Alex Turner talks to Priyanka Raval about why this is important, and whether we can look forward to more open local government.

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Back in autumn 2023, Bristol City Council was being scrutinised over its performance answering freedom of information (FOI) requests, by the independent regulator responsible for looking after citizens’ information rights. We made the issue our cover story, for our October print edition.

At the end of August, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) had issued a notice telling the council it needed to do better at answering the requests. These basically give anyone the right to ask questions of the public bodies that have a bearing on our lives. We’re talking central government departments, the NHS, educational institutions – and of course, the local authorities who are in charge of many mundane – and not so mundane – parts of our everyday lives.

It had been on the Cable’s radar for a while that Bristol sometimes seemed slower – and on occasion less helpful – at answering FOI requests than some of its peers.

And it wasn’t just reporters noticing this – some of the city’s more active residents had also previously posed tough questions as to why requests weren’t getting adequate responses. In 2021, the deputy mayor Craig Cheney had admitted a systemic problem. So it seemed natural for us to look more deeply into why it hadn’t been fixed after two years.

Six months on, the city is looking at political change as elections loom. So it seemed a good time to revisit this topic.

Why is it so important that local government is as transparent as possible – and will it become more so after May? What’s the point of FOI anyway? And do we actually know whether the council has improved its performance?

Join Alex Turner, who wrote the freedom of information cover story, in conversation with Debrief presenter Priyanka Raval getting into these questions and others. And with those local elections fast approaching, be sure to look out for our in-depth interviews with senior figures from all the main parties, as part of our long-running Bristol Unpacked podcast series.

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