Information Commissioner Renews Call For FOI Extension

The Information Commissioner has renewed her call for the Freedom of Information Act to be extended to cover private companies providing public services which is valued at £284 billion a year.  

Speaking at the Society of Editors conference, Elizabeth Denham also expressed concern that Government records had become more “ephemeral”, with decisions made by WhatsApp, making it harder to keep and access records of big decision-making.

She said that the ICO processed about 6.500 FOI appeals a year and that they did have capacity to take more.

She added: “But the laws have not kept up with the technology and the other issue, and we tabled a report this year, it’s about outsourcing, and the problem is that so much Government services are delivered by outsourced companies that are not subject to Freedom of Information.

“I think that’s a significant issue and we’ve called for the law to be extended to outsource and contracted providers who are delivering our ordinary everyday public services.”

The News Media Association has campaigned for many years to defend the FOI Act from restrictions and for its extension to cover local and national government contractors providing public services, arguing that it improved public oversight and public accountability, which would thereby also add value for the taxpayer.

In its report ‘Outsourcing Oversight? The case for reforming access to information law’ published in January, the Information Commissioner said “urgent action” was required to bring private companies providing public services under the scope of FOI.

The report added: “We have said that strong information access rights can improve services. Greater transparency and accountability regarding outsourced public services could reduce corruption, promote an open and competitive market for a more diverse range of suppliers (a key Government target), encourage innovation, increase collaboration in the supply markets, lead to greater efficiencies and improve value for money for the taxpayer.”