Thursday, July 16, 2009

Govt plans to extend FOI Act "disappointingly modest"

Campaign for Freedom of Information
Press release 16 July 2009
The government’s plans to extend the Freedom of Information Act to just 4 bodies or classes of organisation is “a useful but disappointingly modest result”, according to the Campaign for Freedom of Information.

The four are the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO), the Financial Services Ombudsman, the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) and Academy schools. ACPO had volunteered to be brought under the Act, which the Campaign said “reflects well on the organisation”.

But the Campaign said it was disappointed at the narrow scope of the proposals. The Act allows contractors providing services on behalf of a public authority to be brought under its scope, if the provision of the service is a function of the authority. However, the government is not proposing to designate any contractors.

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 Campaign highlighted the fact that the government has decided not to bring private prisons under the Act, although last month the Prime Minister’s spokesman cited private prisons as an example of the kind of body that would be covered (Afternoon press briefing, 10.6.2009, The government’s October 2007 consultation document on extending the Act also referred to private prisons as an example of the type of body that could be designated.

A Ministerial Statement also confirmed that a revised records management code of practice under section 46 of the FOI Act has been issued. However, the expected publication of the Government's formal response to the review of the 30 year rule has now been deferred.

On 10 June 2009, the Prime Minister announced that the 30 year period before old official papers are made public would be reduced to 20 years, but Cabinet documents and information relating to the Royal Family would be made exempt from the FOI Act altogether for 20 years, an extremely retrograde step. The MoJ Statement said "The Government are considering carefully the practical details of implementing a new rule and aim to publish their full response in late summer".

No comments: