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27 July 2012 | Kamalpreet Badasha
Private companies providing government services should have to comply with Freedom of Information (FoI) requests, MPs believe.
A report by the Justice Select Committee said it should be clear in contracts where private firms are delivering public services what their FoI obligations are. But the MPs said contractual provisions were a preferable route for enforcement rather than applying a blanket rule bringing these providers under the scope of the Act.
Post-legislative scrutiny of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 said although the public sector is generally maintaining the right to access information, this standard of needs to be maintained in relation to any contracts that are outsourced. Edward Hammond of the Centre for Public Scrutiny told the committee: "A lot of councils will, as a matter of course, include a section on transparency and access to data, certainly in major contracts."
But the report also warned: “Some public bodies may be reluctant to take action if a private provider compliant with all other contractual terms fails to honour its obligations in this area.”
MPs also said FoI may have to be reviewed if public bodies suffer commercial prejudice. “If public sector bodies are found to be at a disadvantage we expect either that section 43 will be amended or another model found to protect such commercial interests,” said the report.