Enquirers mask their true identities

7 September 2005
More legal news

08 September 2005 | Anusha Bradley

Some suppliers requesting details of failed bids under the Freedom of Information Act are hiding their identities because of fears such requests may hamper future contract awards.

The trend, whereby would-be suppliers use third parties including private e-mail addresses, solicitors or consultants to mount enquiries, has caused some public-sector bodies to reveal more details of their contract awards.

John Ashton, director of Freedom Of Information, which carries out procurement-related enquiries, said the practice addressed a genuine concern for longer-term business relationships.

"It's not done under false pretences. Their fear is that they will be perceived as prying into the affairs of the organisation with which they have a commercial relationship."

Mohamed Hans, lead procurement advisor for the Chartered Institute for Public Finance and Accountancy's procurement and commissioning forum, told SM: "Evidence suggests that suppliers are using the FoI increasingly as a commercial intelligence tool to find out about competitors and the tender process. In many cases they may be using pseudonyms."

Hans, who is also a solicitor, said this raised the issue as to whether identity is relevant when making requests.

"Some organisations are starting to form a view that certain exemptions may be applied correctly only if the identity of the requestor is known."

Under the terms of the 2000 act, government departments can call on 23 exemptions when refusing to disclose requested information.

"It is likely that we will see more of this debate over the next couple of months as experience and knowledge of the act increases. It promises interesting and challenging times ahead for FoI and procurement practioners," he said.

A NHS Confederation spokesman told SM hospital trusts had reported an increase in request from private firms: "The unintended consequence [of the act] is that it takes up a lot of staff time and resources," he said.

In response to a "recent surge" of requests, Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital Trust last week decided to post all released information on the internet to prevent firms profiting commercially from any details obtained from individual enquiries.

SMsep2005

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