The Department of Health’s Transition Risk Register from November 2010, which was a statement of potential risks of NHS changes, will not be published, following Cabinet agreement and a final decision made by the Secretary of State for Health.
The Secretary of State for Health sought the Cabinet’s views on the exercise of the Ministerial Veto in relation to the Information Tribunal’s ruling that the Transition Risk Register should be released. He did so as part of a full commitment to act in accordance with the provisions of the the Freedom of Information Act, which makes specific provision for the exercise of such a veto.
The Coalition Government is committed to the Freedom of Information Act and has extended it to all academy schools through the Academies Act; and to the Association of Chief Police Officers, Financial Ombudsman Service, and the Universities and Colleges Admissions Services through secondary legislation. In addition, the Protection of Freedoms Act, which gained Royal Assent on 1 May, provides for the extension of the FOI Act to over 100 companies wholly owned by public authorities.
Risk Registers are a vital part of Government policy development. Ministers and officials should be able to deliberate sensitive policy formulation, in expectation that their views are not published at a time when it would prejudice the development and delivery of policies. If such risk registers were regularly disclosed, it is likely their form and content would change, and they would no longer be the effective internal management tools they are intended to be.
In light of the interest in this case, and in line with the Government’s commitment to be more transparent by opening up Government information, the Department of Health has today published a document that sets out key information relating to the areas of risks in the original Risk Register. It also sets out the mitigating actions that have taken place since November 2010 and which are planned in the future. But it protects the language and form of the Risk Register.
Health Secretary Andrew Lansley said:
“This is not a step I have taken lightly. I am a firm believer in greater transparency and this Government and this Department have done far more than our predecessors in publishing information about the performance and results of our policies. But there also needs to be safe space where officials are able to give Ministers full and frank advice in developing policies and programmes. The Freedom of Information Act always contemplated such a ‘safe space’ and I believe effective government requires it. That is why Cabinet has today decided to veto the release of the Department’s transition risk register.
“Had we not taken this decision, it is highly likely that future sensitive risk registers would turn into anodyne documents, and be worded quite differently with civil servants worrying about how they sound to the public rather than giving Minister frank policy advice.
“To continue to be transparent about the risks we considered, and to be equally clear about how we have mitigated those risks, I have also published today a document setting out key information relating to the areas of risks in the original Risk Register, how we have met those risks head on and how we will continue to do so. The public continue to have all the information necessary to understand what we considered the risks to be and how we have acted to mitigate them.”
The choice to use the Veto rather than appeal the decision to publish the Risk Register was made because the Secretary of State and the Cabinet views this as an exceptional case where there is a fundamental disagreement on where the public interest lies in relation to the disclosure of the Risk Register. The Upper Tier Tribunal would focus on points of law arising out of the First Tier Tribunal decision rather than the balance of the public interest on the evidence.
The Department of Health will also publish today a Scheme for Publication, which will set out proposals for reviewing and releasing material relating to the transition programme in the future. Both these documents will be published on the Department’s website.
Notes to Editors
- For all media enquiries, please contact the Department of Health press office on 020 7210 5221
- The document Transition Programme Risks: Review of November 2010 Risk Register can be read online.
- The Scheme for Publication can be read online.
- The Department has also published a Transition Risk Management Strategy, which outlines how risks are being managed within the transition programme.