Private businesses which work for central and local government could soon to be subject to Freedom of Information requests, in a move which would force them to disclose highly sensitive details such as staff pay levels and email correspondence.
Under proposals put forward by Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham, companies which provide services to the government, including charities and possibly even marketing services agencies on the government roster, should be covered by the Freedom of Information Act.
In a report, entitled Outsourcing Oversight?, Denham said that her resolve had been strengthened by the lack of transparency around the collapse of Carillion and the Grenfell Tower tragedy, both of which fell outside the FOI remit.
She added: “This report is not about whether certain methods are to be preferred. It is about highlighting the clear risks to transparency and accountability when information held by such organisations is removed from the scrutiny offered by access to information law.
“The current law is not fit for purpose. It needs to keep pace with the changes in the modern public sector and public expectations.”
According to data published by think tank the Institute for Government, the government spends £284bn on external suppliers. Denham said: “Yet not all of these organisations are subject to access to information laws. Maintaining accountable and transparent services is a challenge because the current regime does not always extend beyond public authorities and, when it does, it is complicated.”
Denham said that recent reforms under the Data Protection Act 2018 and GDPR have shown the importance of keeping privacy rights under review and adapting them to changing circumstances.
In an article in the Financial Times, Denham added: “Strong laws create transparency, accountability and a knowledgeable and engaged citizenry. We must catch up.”
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