Government reassures sector over freedom of information

In response to a letter from Sir Stephen Bubb of Acevo, the Ministry of Justice says efforts to improve transparency in outsourcing will not result in charities being subject to the Freedom of Information Act

Ministry of Justice
Ministry of Justice

The government has moved to assure charities that deliver public services that a drive to improve transparency in outsourcing will not result in them being subject to the Freedom of Information Act.

The Ministry of Justice was responding to comments from Sir Stephen Bubb, head of the charity chief executives body Acevo, who wrote yesterday to the Liberal Democrat MP Simon Hughes, who is a justice minister, about remarks he made in parliament on Tuesday.

Hughes told the House of Commons there had been good progress on a new code of practice "to make sure that those private companies that carry out public functions have Freedom of Information requirements in their contracts". He said two consultations on the matter would take place before the new code is published later this year.

In his letter, Bubb said he feared the introduction of legally binding FOI Act requirements would price charities out of delivering public services.

He sought assurances that this was not the "start of a slippery slope" towards further red tape for charities and social enterprises, and said there must be a full consultation on any changes.

In a statement, Bubb said: "Charities and social enterprises are already regulated by the Charity Commission to ensure openness and transparency. Subjecting them to Freedom of Information Act red tape on top of everything else would raise prohibitive costs and shut out many important community organisations from delivering public services."

Asked to comment on Bubb’s letter, a spokeswoman for the Ministry of Justice said that there were "no plans to extend the act to either private or third sector organisations that have been awarded contracts to deliver public services".

The spokeswoman said the new code of practice was announced in November 2012 and was designed "to help public bodies better understand how to respond to FOI requests, and also promote openness where public services are contracted out".

Last month, Bubb wrote a letter to David Cameron, the Prime Minister, complaining of "poor treatment of civil society subcontractors" by large public service contractors, and said that charities working with the private sector were often "set up to fail".

In response, Cameron said he recognised the concern, and said: "Over the coming months we will take further steps to support these organisations and I would welcome your continued engagement."

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