Wednesday, October 30, 2013

76 organisations call on government to drop proposed FOI restrictions

76 campaign groups, charities and press bodies have written to the prime minister urging him to drop proposals to restrict the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act. They say the proposals are not compatible with the prime minister's stated aim of making the UK "the most open and transparent government in the world".

The letter coincides with an international summit on open government, hosted by the UK in London tomorrow (October 31). The event will be attended by government and civil society representatives from over 60 countries. Each government - including the UK - is expected to announce new commitments towards greater openness, drawn up in partnership with non-governmental organisations from their own countries.

However, in November 2012 the UK government announced that it was considering a series of proposals to make it easier for public authorities to refuse FOI requests on cost grounds. These proposals are still being considered.

The organisations say: "We find it difficult to reconcile the ambition that the UK should be the world leader in openness with the government's proposals to restrict the FOI Act, which is a critical element of the UK's openness arrangements. Many requests of substantial public interest would be refused under these proposals regardless of the benefits of disclosure. We hope that the government will mark that commitment by announcing that it will not be bringing forward proposals to restrict the Act."

The joint letter, which has been co-ordinated by the Campaign for Freedom of Information, has also been signed by: Action against Medical Accidents, Action on Hearing Loss, Against Violence & Abuse, Animal Aid, Article 19, Big Brother Watch, British Humanist Association, British Institute of Human Rights, British Muslims for Secular Democracy, Broadcasting Entertainment Cinematograph and Theatre Union, Broken Rainbow UK, BUAV, Campaign Against Arms Trade, Campaign for Better Transport, Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom, Children are unbeatable! Alliance, Compact Voice, Corporate Responsibility Coalition, Corporate Watch, Crucible Centre for Human Rights Research, Daily Mail, Democratic Society, Equanomics-UK, Friends of the Earth, Friends Families and Travellers Community Base, Full Fact, Gender Identity Research and Education Society, Guardian News & Media, Heather Brooke, Inclusion London, Indigenous Peoples Links, Insulin Dependent Diabetes Trust, International Records Management Trust, Involve, Jubilee Debt Campaign, JUST West Yorkshire, Law Centres Network, Law Society Gazette, League Against Cruel Sports, Leigh Day, Liberty, London Evening Standard Independent & Independent on Sunday, London Mining Network, Migrants' Rights Network, Mind, MySociety, National Secular Society, National Union of Journalists, Newspaper Society, OneKind, Open Democracy, Open Knowledge Foundation, Open Rights Group, OpenCorporates, People & Planet, Practical Participation, Press Gazette, Prisoners' Advice Service, Public Concern at Work, Public Interest Investigations, Public Interest Research Centre, Publish What You Fund, Race on the Agenda, Refugee Council, Republic, Request Initiative, Rights Watch (UK), RoadPeace, Save FOI, Society of Editors, Spinwatch, Taxpayers' Alliance, The Press in York, Transform Justice, Unlock Democracy and Women's Resource Centre.

Full press release here.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

MPs call for extension of the FOI Act to cover contracted out public services

An Early Day Motion calling for the extension of the FOI Act to cover contracted out public services has been tabled by Labour MP Grahame Morris and co-sponsored by Caroline Lucas (Green), Mark Durkan (SDLP), John McDonnell (Lab), Margaret Ritchie (SDLP) and Peter Bottomley (Con):
That this House praises the Freedom of Information Act 2000 for the transparency and openness it has brought to the public sector and the public right of access of information held by central and local government and its agencies; notes that public services delivered by private companies are currently beyond the scope of the 2000 Act; further notes that, as growing amounts of public services are privatised, ever decreasing amounts of public spend are subject to freedom of information; and supports calls to extend the legislation so that public services contracted out to the private and third sector are covered by freedom of information legislation.
The contracting out of public authority functions to bodies which are not subject to the FOI Act is likely to severely undermine the public’s rights to information. For further information, see the Campaign's evidence to the Justice Committee's review of the Act last year (pg 15-19).

The motion is open for other MPs to sign. Please write to your MP and ask them to sign EDM 613 on 'Extension of Freedom of Information Act 2000'.  You can check the list of MPs that have signed here.