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Government plans to extend FOI Act “disappointingly modest”

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, http://www.number10.gov.uk/Page19602). 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.

The government has said it will carry out further consultation with utility companies and Network Rail to see whether they could be covered by the Act at a future time.
But other potential candidates for inclusion, on which no action is to be taken, include housing associations, PFI bodies, self regulatory agencies (such as the Solicitors Regulation Authority, part of the Law Society), the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games, British Airports Authority, New Deal Communities Partnerships and Local Strategic Partnerships, port authorities and train operating companies.

Note
The government’s response to the consultation document on extending the FOI Act is available at:
http://www.justice.gov.uk/consultations/docs/consultation-response-_section5.pdf

The consultation document itself is available at:
http://www.justice.gov.uk/consultations/cp2707.htm

The Campaign’s submission in response to the consultation exercise is available at:
http://www.cfoi.org.uk/pdf/CFOI_s5response.pdf

Further information

Maurice Frankel or Katherine Gundersen 020 7490 3958

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