Friday, March 14, 2008

Contractors "should be subject to Information Act"

The Campaign for Freedom of Information is calling for private contractors providing services to the public on behalf of public authorities to be made subject to the Freedom of Information Act in their own right.

The private bodies which should be brought under the Act include those providing treatment or diagnosis to NHS patients, private care home owners acting under contract to local authorities, contractors running schools for local education authorities or operating prisons or prisoner escort services. Private train, bus and tram operating companies and contractors responsible for the running of London underground lines should also be covered by the Act, the Campaign says.

The Campaign’s director, Maurice Frankel, said: “These services were previously provided by public authorities directly and would otherwise have come under the Freedom of Information Act when it came into force in 2005. Contracting-out has led to a reduction in the public’s rights to information, which should be restored.”

The same principle should also apply to voluntary organisations providing services under contracts with public authorities, says the Campaign. Bodies representing the voluntary sector have recently argued that the Act should not extend to them. But the Campaign points out that public funding for the voluntary sector has risen from £5 billion annually in 1997 to £10 billion in 2007, much of it to enable the voluntary sector to take over the provision of services from public authorities. The Campaign points out that some of the large voluntary bodies receive more public funds than conventional public authorities.

The Campaign is also calling for private bodies with public functions to be brought under the Act. These should include academy schools, housing associations, new deal communities partnerships and local strategic partnerships. Other candidates should include BAA which runs Heathrow and other airports, NATS (the body responsible for air traffic control), Network Rail, port authorities, self regulatory bodies like the Press Complaints Commission, the Advertising Standards Association and the Solicitors Regulation Authority and standard setting bodies like the British Standards Institute.

The Campaign’s comments are made in response to a Ministry of Justice consultation about the possible extension of the FOI Act. The Campaign’s full response can be found here.

No comments: