Freedom of Information (May 2016)

Thank you for contacting me about Freedom of Information. I know that the Government is committed to making government more transparent, so taxpayers can hold the state to account both on how their money is being spent and how decisions are made which affect their lives. The Freedom of Information Act is one of the pillars on which open government operates, so both I and the Government are committed to supporting it. Yet after more than a decade in operation, I believe it was appropriate to review, in the whole, how it has operated in practice, and establish how its mechanisms could be improved. This is why the Government established an independent, cross-party Commission on Freedom of Information. I am pleased that the Commission has now published its report, and the Government has given its preliminary views on some of the most salient recommendations. The Government will carefully consider the Commission's other recommendations. I think it is important to consider what the Act already covers, which includes material held by a private company on behalf of a public authority with which it has a contract. All information held by a public authority is already within the scope of the Act, including communications with third party contractors. Public authorities are also obliged to answer requests about contracts with private providers, although exemptions do exist for commercially sensitive material. Expressing its provisional view on the matter, the Commission was clear that extending the Act directly to private companies delivering outsourced public services would be burdensome and unnecessary. Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.

May 2016