FOIA may be extended to apply to information about public services provided by contractors

Liberal Democrat MP Tom Brake proposes that major contractors would fall under the FOIA. The Bill, Freedom of Information (Public Interest and Transparency) Bill, introduced with all-party support on 19 January under the 10-minute rule, proposes to ‘amend the Freedom of Information Act 2000 to remove provisions permitting Ministers to overrule decisions of the Information Commissioner and Information Tribunal; to limit the time allowed for public authorities to respond to requests involving consideration of the public interest; to extend the Freedom of Information Act 2000 to cover private companies, social enterprises and charities contracted to carry out work for public authorities and the Royal Household; and for connected purposes.’

The Freedom of Information Campaign’s director Maurice Frankel said: “Information about public services provided by contractors, whether commercial bodies or charities, should be covered by FOI. The loophole in the Act, which excludes such information if the contract doesn’t refer to it, should be closed. The public’s right to know should not be arbitrarily cut off because the staff who provide the service are paid by a contractor not by the authority itself.”

The Campaign is calling for major contractors, whose work mainly involves providing public services, to be brought directly under the Act in their own right in relation to those contracts. Information held by other contractors should be available via an FOI request to the public authority, it says. This approach has been endorsed by the Information Commissioner, the Campaign says.

The Bill is expected to have its second reading debate on 11 March 2016.