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Orders to add/remove bodies to the FOI Act

In a written ministerial statement today (30 March 2010), the Justice minister Michael Wills, has confirmed that a Section 5 Order will be brought forward in the next parliamentary session, extending the Freedom of Information Act to Academy Schools, the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO), the Financial Ombudsman Service and the Universities and Colleges Admission Service (UCAS). This follows the Government’s announcement on 16 July 2009 that it would consult these bodies with a view to bringing them within the Act’s scope (see earlier post). 

The statement said:

Having carefully considered all the evidence it is clear that all of the bodies listed above perform functions of a public nature. I have written to each of the bodies to explain the decision in detail, and to identify the functions to which the Act will apply. However the reasons in brief are as follows:

ACPO’s functions are concerned with providing leadership for the police force, improving policing, acting as a voice for the force, encouraging high standards of performance and development, providing the strategic police response in times of national need and other ancillary and related functions. Policing is clearly recognised as a function of a public nature.  For these reasons it is appropriate to include ACPO in a section 5 order for all of their functions.

The Financial Ombudsman Service resolves disputes between consumers and providers of financial services. It was established under a statutory scheme in order to provide consumers with a quick and informal alternative to the courts.  We consider that the functions of FOS appear to be functions of a public nature and that it would be appropriate to include them in a section 5 order.

UCAS provides its member University and Colleges with admissions services. Without such services, those institutions – which are bodies listed as public authorities in either the Freedom of Information Act or the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act – would need to perform these functions for themselves, and the information would be captured by those Acts. As UCAS provides these services on behalf of its members, it is clear that UCAS does perform a function of a public nature. 

Finally, although independent of local authority control, Academies are publicly-funded schools and a part of the state education system. Provision of state education is clearly a public function and parents and local residents should be able to access the same kind of information about Academy Schools as for any other state-funded school.  The Academy Trust, is the body responsible for the running of the Academy School.  In our view, the public functions of Academies are those set out in the funding agreement signed between the Academy Trust and the Department for Children, Schools and Families: in short, the establishment, maintenance and carrying on of an Academy. We propose to include Academy Trusts in a section 5 order for these purposes from the point at which they enter into funding agreements. 

The Order will be laid and debated at the earliest possible opportunity in the next parliamentary session, with the intention that it will commence in October 2011.

A news release from the Ministry of Justice is here.

Two orders under section 4 of the FOI Act were also laid before Parliament on 25 March 2010. The Freedom of Information (Additional Public Authorities) Order 2010 No. 937 adds public bodies to Schedule 1 of the FOI Act that meet the critieria in sections 4(2) and (3) of the Act. The explanatory memoranda explains:

The bodies that are being added to the list of public authorities in the Schedule to the Act include a number of newly created public bodies, and some that were not included previously but that perform comparable functions to those that are already in the list. The Act will apply to most of these bodies from 1st October 2010. The exceptions are the Building Regulations Advisory Committee for England and the Building Regulations Advisory Committee for Wales, which will each be added to Schedule 1 on 31st December 2011. This is because the Welsh Ministers (Transfer of Functions) (No. 2) Order 2009 replaces the current Building Regulations Advisory Committee with two separate committees (one for England and one for Wales) and this order will not come into force until 31st December 2011.

The Freedom of Information (Removal of References to Public Authorities) Order 2010 No. 939 removes references to public authorities from Schedule 1 of the Act, as on the date the order enters into force they will have either ceased to exist or ceased to meet the necessary criteria.

The Freedom of Information (Removal of References to Public Authorities) Order 2010 removes a number of public bodies from the scope of the Act. All but one of those bodies have already ceased to exist, so there will be no practical reduction in the scope of the Act. The exception is the Building Regulations Advisory Committee, which will cease to exist on the coming into force of the Welsh Ministers (Transfer of Functions) (No. 2) Order 2009 on 31st December 2011. This body will therefore be removed from Schedule 1 of the Act from that date.

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