Extend FOI to outsourcing firms, says poll

22 February 2016

Most people surveyed in a poll on Freedom of Information (FOI) laws said the rules should be extended to companies receiving taxpayers’ money to provide public services.

According to research by YouGov 60% of people polled said the laws, which grant the right to access recorded information held by public sector organisations, should be extended. Only one in ten said they would oppose strengthening FOI laws.

The survey of 1,735 British adults, commissioned by campaigning group 38 Degrees, found that 14% of those polled did not know if they would support the changes and 15% said they neither supported nor opposed them.

Currently the Freedom of Information Act 2000 means that information can be requested from some public sector organisations, including government departments, local councils, schools, colleges and universities, health trusts, hospitals and doctors’ surgeries, publicly owned companies, publicly funded museums and the police.

The FOI act does not cover every organisation that receives public money, including some charities or some private sector organisations that perform public functions.

The Independent Commission on Freedom of Information was set up last July to review the law and consider the balance between transparency, accountability and the need for sensitive information to be protected.

It is also assessing the burden of the law on public authorities and whether change is needed to moderate that while maintaining public access to information. The commission has been taking written and oral evidence since then.

38 Degrees said that nearly 200,000 people signed a petition calling on FOI laws to be extended.

“It’s no surprise that the public wants FOI laws to be stronger,” said Lorna Greenwood, campaign manager at 38 Degrees. “At the moment British taxpayers don’t have the right to know how companies like G4S or Virgin are spending our money. At the moment taxpayers’ money is falling into a black hole.

“Most of us think that freedom of information is an essential part of our democracy, it allows us to hold our government and politicians to account. That’s why hundreds of thousands of 38 Degrees members are calling on the government to extend FOI laws.

“Politicians of all parties now need to explain exactly what they will be doing to bring about the changes the public clearly demands.”

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