FoI should cover private companies that take over public contracts

According to the Scottish Information Commissioner, members of the public are not getting access to important information about their public services because private contractors are exempt from Freedom of Information legislation.

Kevin Dunion told The Scotsman there were still major gaps in the law preventing people getting information they should be entitled to. Mr Dunion wants ministers to change the law and bring private companies working in the public sector under the scope of the Freedom of Information Act.

An increasing number of private corporations have become involved in the delivery of public services through the Public Private Partnership scheme. Gordon Brown has started a consultation for England and Wales on ways to bring them under the scope of Freedom of Information legislation but, as yet, the Scottish Government has not done the same.

Mr Dunion believes all of these private companies should now be covered by the act, as well as housing associations. He said: "I am talking here about a 30-year monopolistic contract, covering the entire running of a public establishment from the planning of it through to its day-to-day operation. That sort of information should be in the public domain. If it was a hospital, you could be born in it, have your tonsils out in it and give birth to your children in it, but you would not have access to information about its operation. Another area I am interested in is social housing. I do think things like the Glasgow Housing Association should be covered. If you have a tenant in a council house you have a right under Freedom of Information to information about your landlord, but not if you are in a housing association. They want to know about waiting lists, about the cost of work done on their behalf, whether the landlord got a good deal."

Mr Dunion added: "The contractors should be covered within the act. There is an enormous amount of information which the public had a right to but which now they are prevented from accessing."

Mr Dunion said other countries had solved this problem by making sure that public authorities held all the relevant information from private companies working on their behalf. Other administrations had designated private companies as public authorities as far as the legislation was concerned, if they took over public contracts.

A spokesman for the Scottish Government said: "The matter of extending the scope of the Freedom of Information Scotland Act to cover additional bodies is under active consideration."

Public denied information by gaps in law, says Dunion (The Scotsman, 10 March 2008)


confirm or deny said...

It would be good also to ensure all publicly owned companies are subject to the Freedom of Information Act:

"We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to support a change to the law to make companies owned two thirds or more by public authorities subject to the Freedom of Information Act 2000."

Please sign this petition:

The current law is not sensible - a company owned by one local authority is subject to the Act but a company owned by two local authorities is not.