Submit public sector contractors to freedom of information, campaigners urge
Times Photographer Richard Pohle
Fire risks at publicly owned properties would be more easily exposed if parliament extended freedom of information laws to cover contractors, campaigners said yesterday.
Activists called on MPs who won the right to bring forward a private members bill in last week’s ballot to adopt their proposals. They claim that a proposed Freedom of Information (Contractors etc) Bill would allow the public to see information held by contractors about public services they provide including social care, health, public transport, parking enforcement, school inspections and privately run prisons.
The proposed legislation is being promoted by the Campaign for Freedom of Information, which pointed out that at the moment information held by a contractor is only available under the Freedom of Information Act when a contract entitles the public authority concerned to obtain that information from the contractor.
Campaign organisers said that examples of contractor-held information that had not be released under existing legislation covered a range of issues, including the number of complaints from the public against court security officers provided by private companies and the number of officers charged with offences. The value of penalty fares issued on the London Overground and Docklands Light Railway by private sector inspectors has also not been revealed, as have the costs of bringing TV licensing prosecutions, which are handled by a private contractor, and, according to the campaign, not known to the BBC.
The bill would also cover housing associations that are not subject to freedom of information legislation. The campaign said that under existing law, those organisations can refuse to answer requests about fire risks, safety problems and eviction policies.
Maurice Frankel, the campaign’s director, said: “The public’s rights to information about a public service should not depend on whether it is provided by a public authority or a contractor. It’s absurd for these rights to vary depending on who pays the staff concerned and on the small print of every contract. The bill would ensure that contractor-held information is accessible via an FOI request to the authority.”