£40k spent hiding how rarely northern powerhouse minister visited north

From The Guardian: The Tory government has spent two years and £40,000 of taxpayers’ money trying to hide how little the northern powerhouse minister visited the north of England in his role, in what one prominent northern figure called “a blatant disregard for the principles of democratic accountability”.

In February 2016 the Guardian submitted a freedom of information (FoI) request to the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) asking how regularly James Wharton, who had then been northern powerhouse minister for just over six months, travelled outside London.

The department flouted a requirement to respond to the request within 20 working days and did not provide a response for more than four months – at which point it denied the application.

The Information Commissioner’s Office then undertook an investigation, during the course of which it found that the department adopted “what appears to have been a strategy of wilful procrastination in order to obstruct a request for information”.

[Read full article on Guardian website…]

Diane Abbott asks for explanation over denied access to Yarl’s Wood

From The Guardian: Diane Abbott has written to the home secretary, Amber Rudd, to ask why she has been refused permission to visit the controversial Yarl’s Wood immigration removal centre despite at least a dozen requests over more than a year.

The shadow home secretary said getting access to the centre in Bedfordshire, which has regularly seen concerns raised about inappropriate treatment of highly vulnerable detainees, was a necessary part of her job.

Yarl’s Wood, where foreign nationals are detained before being deported, faced criticism last month after the chief inspector of prisons, Peter Clarke, said he had found increasing numbers of women held there despite evidence they were victims of torture, rape and trafficking.

Clarke said he was concerned to find that the Home Office had refused to accept that rape came within the legal definition of torture.

In July a Kenyan asylum seeker won a court victory, with the Home Office found to have acted unlawfully by locking her in a “punishment room” at Yarl’s Wood for an excessive time.

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Brexit: Liam Fox’s department signs deal to keep trade talks secret

From Unearthed: Liam Fox’s department for international trade has signed agreements with the US which will make it much more difficult to find out what is being discussed in early-stage US-UK trade talks.

Liam Fox’s department last week quietly released an exchange of letters between the UK and the office of the US trade representative agreeing to mark exchanged information, papers and discussions as either “sensitive” or “confidential”, with both sides also agreeing to keep the information “held in confidence” for four years after the conclusion of the talks.

This has led to concerns from politicians and campaign groups that the talks could pave the way for the UK to accept lower US standards on issues including animal welfare, chemical and pesticide usage, and other practices.

[Read full article on Unearthed…]