Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Public Accounts Committee says Network Rail should be subject to FOI Act

A report by the Public Accounts Committee 'Office of Rail Regulation: Regulationg Network Rail's efficiency' published today, calls for the Department for Transport and Office of Rail Regulation to ensure that Network Rail is made subject to the Freedom of Information Act. The report states:
The internal operations of Network Rail are not transparent. We are concerned about Network Rail’s use of ‘compromise agreements’ with departing employees, and that a review by the Regulator has been required to investigate the delayed disclosure by Network Rail of an issue regarding level crossing safety. We are concerned that Network Rail was not able to tell us the total value of compromise agreements it had entered into. The Department and the Regulator should ensure that Network Rail is subject to the same transparency requirements as public bodies, with full application of the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act.
It also says:
Pursuing the issue of transparency, we noted press reports of an internal Railtrack memorandum from 2001 regarding safety at the Elsenham level crossing, an issue which had not been made public until 2006. The matter is currently the subject of review by the Regulator, who will judge whether it was material to the public interest and was withheld deliberately. Network Rail is not currently subject to Freedom of Information legislation, but told us that it would not object to being included within the scope of the Act in future.
Does this mean Network Rail has had a change of heart? David Higgins, who took over as Chief Executive of Network Rail in February 2010, told the Committee he would have no objection to members of the public being able to make FOI requests adding that he had "been used to FOI in the last two jobs I have had".

Before the election both the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats promised Network Rail would be covered by FOI.  In April 2010, the Conservatives published 'Big ideas to give Britain real change in politics', which stated:
A Conservative government will increase the range of publically funded bodies that are subject to scrutiny using Section 5 orders under the Freedom of Information Act. These bodies will include:
• Network Rail
• Northern Rock;
• The Carbon Trust;
• The Energy Saving Trust;
• NHS Confederation (in relation to activities in receipt of public funds);
• Local Government Association; and
• Traffic Penalty Tribunals
Section 5 of the Freedom of Information Act enables Secretaries of State to designate organisations that appear to exercise functions of a public nature to scrutiny under the legislation. We will extend the Freedom of Information Act to these organisations within weeks of the General Election.
But an announcement in January 2011 that the Government would extend the FOI Act to additional bodies did not include Network Rail, a decision which the Campaign for Freedom of Information expressed disappointment about.

See also:
We need a regulator with teeth to force efficiencies at Network Rail, says MPs - The Times, 12 July 2011 (subscription)
Network Rail chief in push for openness - FT, 27 Feb 2011


Andrew said...

Interestingly, Network Rail are currently recruiting for a 'Head of Transparency'. The salary indicates it is a fairly senior position, so it looks as though they are preparing to improve their performance on this subject.

Katherine Gundersen said...

So they are. Thanks Andrew.

Job ad here - http://bit.ly/nLGiuF