PL&B FOI E-news, Issue 47

1. Government adopts narrow scope in extending the FOI Act

The Government has finally, 18 months after the close of the consultation period, published its views on extending the FOI Act to private sector organisations offering public services, but includes only four organisations or groups. To be included are:

  • The Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) which asked to be included
  • Academy schools
  • The Financial Ombudsman Service
  • The Universities and Colleges Admission Service (UCAS) which manages applications for places on higher education courses.

The Government will now consult these organisations with a view to their designation under an initial section 5 order. Subject to these bodies being included in the Order, the Government will reflect on the experience, as well as the impact on the Information Commissioner’s Office and Information Tribunal, before assessing the case for a further extension of the Act via a section 5 order.

The Government has decided not to include utilities, rail companies or self regulatory agencies (such as the Solicitors Regulation Authority, part of the Law Society). With regard to utilities, the Government argues that the public is already able to obtain certain information on utilities via the relevant regulating body, but will carry out further consultation with the bodies concerned to assess whether to include some or all of them.

The Act will not be extended to contractors, but the Government will review this later, particularly in relation to prisons, detention centres and foster care homes provided by private sector contractors on behalf of public authorities.

The Campaign for Freedom of Information said it was disappointed at the narrow scope of the proposals. The Campaign had argued that private health bodies providing surgical or diagnostic services under the NHS should be subject to the Act as should providers of social care services and educational and criminal justice services. People’s rights to know about the quality of a public service they receive should be the same, whether the service is provided by a public authority itself or by a private body under contract to the authority, the Campaign said.

The public consultation showed support for the extension of the Act but differing views as to who it should apply and why. The Government published its response to the consultation on 16 July. 

See the Campaign for Freedom of information’s press release.

Privacy Laws & Business published the results of its response to the government’s consultation on January 31st 2008. 

2. FOI Campaign criticises ICO for severe delays

The Campaign for the Freedom of Information says that the severe delays at the ICO in dealing with FOI complaints undermines the impact of the FOI Act. The Campaign says that a delay of 2 to 3 years or more in reaching a decision means that even if the information is ultimately disclosed it may no longer be of interest or use to the requester. Currently, the ICO can issue a decision within 12 months in only 24% of the cases. The regulator says, however, that it is improving its performance all the time.

A full report on this issue is in the August issue of PL&B UK.

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Copyright Privacy Laws & Business 2009