News 10th March 2016

Proposal to extend Freedom of Information to all public contractors

by Tim Hughes

Following the publication of the Commission on Freedom of Information’s findings and ahead of the publication of the UK’s 2016-18 open government action plan, the Campaign for Freedom of Information and Open Government Network have written to Matthew Hancock (Minister for the Cabinet Office) proposing a commitment to extend Freedom of Information to public service contractors.

“Where private companies and charities provide public goods, services or infrastructure, any information held by the contractor in connection with its delivery should be subject to the Freedom of Information Act and thereby open to scrutiny.”

The paper (available below) recognises that ‘extension of Freedom of Information must be done in a proportionate way that does not deter small and medium size organisations – companies or charities – from taking on public contracts’, and therefore proposes a dual approach to bringing public service contractors within Freedom of Information based on the size of the function that is being performed:

  • Major contractors would be brought directly under the Act themselves in relation to their public sector contracts.
  • Other contractors would be subject to Freedom of Information through the contracting authority, with any information regarding the way in which a public good, service or infrastructure is provided under contract is automatically considered to be held on the authority’s behalf.

The proposal is presented as a starting place for discussions, and emphasises that the first step of a commitment must be a broad based discussion and consultation to determine an approach that delivers maximum transparency at minimum cost.

Commitments for the open government action plan will be developed and finalised over the coming weeks.

“We believe that strengthening the public’s right to information in the ways outlined above would represent a potentially transformative commitment, of the kind the UK is committed to making under the Open Government Partnership, and would contribute towards the Government’s commitment to becoming the most open and transparent government in the world.”