FOIMan reports on a new report from the Information Commissioner calling for FOI to be extended to cover a wider range of bodies.
Two weeks ago the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) launched a consultation on its access to information strategy, Openness by Design. One of the five priorities outlined in the strategy was to:
Promote the reform of access to information legislation so it remains fit for purpose.
Wasting no time, the ICO have laid a report before Parliament called ‘Outsourcing Oversight: the case for reforming access to information law’. The report highlights examples of access to information laws – primarily FOI and EIR – failing to facilitate scrutiny of public service provision, from information about reinstatement works following the London Olympics to fire safety inspections of hospitals and other public facilities. The report uses case studies like these, together with polling data and commissioned research to support its conclusions.
The report recommends that:
- a Select Committee inquiry into the issues raised (to which one is tempted to echo the infamous Brenda’s reaction to hearing that the 2017 general election had been called – ‘what, another one?’)
- the government use its s.5 powers to use secondary legislation to make contractors subject to FOI where they are carrying out public functions; it proposes criteria for deciding whether this should happen
- a greater number of organisations carrying out public functions are made subject to FOI via the same route, and that this should happen more frequently; the report specifically draws attention to housing associations, Local Safeguarding Children’s Boards, Electoral Registration Officers and Returning Officers
- EIR should be amended to allow its provisions to be extended to contractors in the same way as FOI
- FOI and EIR should be amended to indicate what information regarding a public sector contract is held for FOI/EIR purposes
- a legal requirement to regularly report on the legislation’s coverage should be introduced
- the government should conduct a review of proactive publication requirements in relation to public sector contracts including publication scheme provisions.
All of these recommendations are, of course, to be welcomed by anyone who supports greater transparency of public institutions. The report, and particularly the supporting research, will no doubt keep debate on this subject alive. The rub will be whether any of this will actually happen at a time when government has a few other things on its collective mind (and will do for some considerable time to come).