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Extending FOI to contractors

A major loophole in the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) means that it does not generally apply to contractors providing public services. The Campaign for Freedom of Information has drafted an amendment to the Procurement Bill to ensure that information held by public sector contractors in connection with a contract is automatically subject to FOIA. 

There is significant support for extending FOIA to contractors:

  • In a 2019 report to Parliament ‘Outsourcing Oversight’, the Information Commissioner stated that ‘[t]he laws are no longer fit for purpose’ and urged that contractors should be brought under FOIA.
  • The Commissioner renewed these calls in 2021 following the huge number of contracts awarded by the Government during the Covid-19 crisis saying ‘[t]he pandemic has only accelerated the range of actors involved in the delivery of public services. The same accountability should apply to the private sector that is delivering fundamental public services.’
  • In 2018 the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee called on the government to ‘work with the Information Commissioner to ensure that revisions to the Freedom of Information Act address her concerns.’
  • The Institute for Government recommended in 2019 that the ‘Government should update freedom of information (FOI) laws to ensure that the public has access to key information about services delivered by external suppliers’ adding ‘the arguments against extending FOI are weak’.
  • The Committee on Standards in Public Life said in 2018: ‘The lack of reach of the Freedom of Information Act into activities of public service providers has reached a point where it is out of step with public expectations’ and urged the Government to ‘hold a public consultation on the question of expanding the Freedom of Information Act’
  • In 2011 the Public Accounts Committee recommended: ‘Freedom of information should be extended to private companies providing public services’. In 2012, the committee said: ‘where private companies provide public services funded by the taxpayer, those areas of their business which are publicly funded should be subject to the Freedom of Information Act provision’
  • The Independent Commission on Freedom of Information, set up by the government to review the FOI Act, recommended in 2016 that ‘information concerning the performance or delivery of public services under contract should be treated as being held on behalf of the contracting public authority’.
  • The House of Commons Justice Committee said in 2012: ‘[t]he right to access information must not be undermined by the increased use of private providers in delivering public services.’
  • The Open Government Network of 700 civil society organisations committed to improved transparency in government, which wrote to the Cabinet Office minister Matthew Hancock in support of the measure in March 2016.

Many national FOI laws around the world already cover contractors delivering public services, including those of Australia, Bangladesh, Estonia, Germany, Ghana, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Kenya, Malawi, New Zealand, Nigeria, Pakistan, Poland, Sierra Leone, Sri Lanka, South Africa, Spain, Trinidad & Tobago and Ukraine.

Over 71,000 people have signed our petition calling for the FOI Act to be extended to public sector contractors. Add your voice here

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