FoI and the private sector

Fresh evidence of the inroads made by freedom of information rules into private sector data will be unveiled on Thursday in a ruling by the privacy watchdog.

The Information Commissioner’s Office will order 32 local authorities to disclose details of fees paid to brokers in relation to pension fund investments.

The decision comes as big business gears up to fight government plans to extend the reach of the three-year-old freedom of information regime, potentially capturing private sector contractors in sectors such as health, education and prisons.

The latest ruling by Richard Thomas, information commissioner, orders publication of the amount of money paid to brokers by investment managers who are responsible for managing the local authorities’ employee pension funds.

The commissioner said the public interest in disclosure overrode the council’s case that the information should remain secret because it was commercially sensitive and governed by confidentiality agreements.

The main reason for disclosure was the “need for transparency among public bodies in their decisions when investing public money”, the commissioner said. Local authority pension funds hold tens of billions of pounds of investments.

The ruling comes after the end earlier this month of a consultation on government proposals to broaden the ambit of the freedom of information laws to some private sector companies that have public functions.

Jack Straw, justice secretary, told the Commons last month: “As the boundary between the public and private sectors for the delivery of what are essentially public services has moved, so we believe that the [freedom of information] arrangements should move as well.”

Information watchdog targets private sector (, 28 February 2008)