FoI should cover charities delivering public services, says ICO chief

12 Dec 2016 News

Elizabeth Denham, the Information Commissioner

The UK’s information commissioner has said that the Freedom of Information Act should apply to any body, including a charity, which delivers a public service. 

In a speech at an event to mark 250 years of freedom of information last week, Elizabeth Denham said: “We should extend the right to know about public services so that it is independent of the service provider.

“Whether public, private or third sector organisations are delivering a service, the public’s right to know should stand unchallenged.”

She said the ICO will publish a report next year urging Parliament to take action on outsourcing and transparency. 

Legal status of provider ‘irrelevant’ to public

Denham said that the legal structure of organisations delivering services is “irrelevant to the public”. 

“If a council runs a swimming pool, information about the pool falls clearly under FoI legislation,” she said. “If a council pays a company to run that pool why should the same information not be available?

“Does the water quality become less important? Do the pool usage figures suddenly have less of an impact on the obesity crisis?

“Should the public accountability of an official running a public service become less when they are a member of a board of directors rather than a member of a council? I say that the answers to these questions should all be a clear ‘no’.”

Previous calls 

The ICO is the latest body to suggest that FoI should be extended. 

Earlier this year the Independent Commission on Freedom of Information, which had been set up to review the Freedom of Information Act, recommended extending it to organisations that deliver public services. 

Then-Cabinet Office minister Matthew Hancock also led calls for extending the FoI to cover charities. 

 

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