The Government does have predictions for immigration from Bulgaria and Romania but thinks it may be in the public interest to keep them secret

By Jonathan Walker on Feb 12, 13 01:45 PM in Politics

The Government does have estimates for the number of workers from Romania and Bulgaria who could come to the UK once restrictions are lifted - but it is currently refusing to tell the rest of us while it decides whether revealing the figures would be in the public interest.

The Department for Communities and Local Government has confirmed that the information exists.

But responding to a Freedom of Information request asking for the numbers, an official said: "Your request . . . raises complex public interest considerations which must be analysed before we can come to a decision" on whether to release the numbers.

Romania and Bulgaria joined the EU in 2007 and transitional controls which restricted immigration from the two countries will be lifted in 2014.

Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles last month revealed that immigration projections had been drawn up but he was not "confident" in the figures and was not willing to publish them.

I submitted Freedom of Information requests to both the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) and the Home Office asking: "What estimates has the department made of the number of migrants expected to arrive from i) Romania and ii) Bulgaria in 2014, 2015 and any future years for which estimates have been made?"

By law, responses to FoI requests are supposed to be made within 20 working days. That would make the deadline Monday, February 11.

But DCLG has responded by saying it needs more time to consider whether it should provide the figures or not.

It claims the information I have asked for may be exempt from the Freedom of Information Act 2000 because it "would, or would be likely to inhibit the free and frank (i) provision of advice and (ii) exchange of views for the purposes of deliberation."

The Department says it needs another 20 working days "to decide if the public interest in withholding the information outweighs the public interest in disclosing it."

The Home Office has simply not responded so far (other than with a simple note last month acknowledging receipt of my request). It does seem reasonable to me that only one Government department should spend time and resources on the request.

However, I don't see how it can require 40 days to consider whether it is in the public interest to withhold from the public the Government's best guess - and we all understand that it can only be a guess - as to what is going to happen once immigration controls are lifted next year.

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Jonathan Walker

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