Following an internal review, the Department for Transport (DfT) have defended their decision to withhold their Equality and Impact Assessment of ticket office closures, arguing that to release it now would be “distracting”.
Earlier this month, the Department for Transport (DfT) rejected our Freedom of Information request in which we asked them to publish their programme-wide assessment of the impact of ticket office closures on disabled people.
In their response, the DfT stated they were withholding the information under the “Formulation of government policy” exemption, going on to elaborate that “Ministers and officials need a safe space away from public scrutiny to formulate and develop the policy.”
We refuted this argument, believing that it is overwhelmingly in the public’s interest to have a full account of the accessibility implications of ticket office closures on a system wide level.
Having appealed the decision two weeks ago (5th September) and asked for an internal review to be undertaken, we have now had a response back from the DfT.
In their response, the DfT doubles down on their original decision to withhold the impact assessment, arguing that the need for Government to have a “safe space” to formulate policy “outweighs the public interest in disclosure”.
The letter states:
“Good government depends on good decision-making and this needs to be based on up-to-date information and a full consideration of all the options without fear of premature disclosure. I agree that the department needs a safe space in which to be able to formulate and develop ‘live’ government policy on this subject.”
Department for Transport
The letter goes on to argue that releasing the impact assessment now would be “distracting” for the DfT, who would “have to deal with any queries about it as opposed to being able to focus on formulating and developing the policy”.
Finally, the letter concludes that the train operators published their own individual impact assessments during the public consultation, and that these were “sufficient to provide transparency”.
We absolutely stand by our reasons for appealing this decision, and will be pursuing this further. We originally submitted this Freedom of Information request when the consultation went live, on 11th July, as we strongly believed the information should be made available to disabled people responding to the consultation. While train operators did eventually publish their individual impact assessments (only after being put under threat of legal action from disabled campaigners), these only pertain to individual station closures and do not identify cumulative impacts.
The next stage for us will be applying directly to the Information Commissioner for a decision.
We will keep you updated with our progress.