Freedom of Information – at risk from outsourcing?

We explained a while ago about our fears on increasing outsourcing and how this might restrict our ability to know what is going with what are fundamentally public sector issues.

This Government has been very good in terms of opening up access to information - they deserve huge credit for that (as do Labour for first introducing Freedom of Information). It would be a great shame if that was lost either accidentally or through devious means.

So it was worrying to see publicervice.co.uk reporting that if MOD do go ahead with converting Defence Equipment and Support into a GoCo, (Government owned, contractor operated entity), we might lose the ability to ask the organization what at the moment are legitimate FOI questions.

Defence Equipment and Support (DE&S), set to spend £150bn over the next 10 years as the MoD's procurement arm, could become a government owned contractor operated (GOCO) entity under proposals announced by Defence Secretary Philip Hammond. A final decision is expected this year.

But the MoD is still unclear on how any new GOCO organisation will shape up. This uncertainty extends to how the organisation will be accountable to the public under freedom of information (FoI), one defence source told Publicservice.co.uk

The Atomic Weapons Establishment, an existing MoD GOCO body, is currently subject to FoI laws. But restrictions apply on the type of information the public can request.  It is currently possible to request information held on behalf of the MoD by the establishment. This includes nuclear records. But the public cannot place FoI requests on plans for "running the business", the source said.

This is exactly the sort of thing that worries us. We need a campaign - not just to address this sort of issue, but to extend FOI to private companies when it relates to contracts that they are providing for Government. We should be able to ask G4S for example questions about how they have been managing their processes for the Olympics contract, and how they have managed their Olympic supply chain.

If we don't get this, and with outsourcing likely to increase, we may find large areas of spend - and of interest - are no longer quite as transparent as they are now. and that would be a shame.

 

First Voice

  1. David Orr:

    Peter – Fear Not! The Government in the Localism Bill definitely supports open information & even the PM supported the principles:

    “Because information is power, we are bringing real transparency to Government… Who spends your money, what they spend it on, what the results are, where the waste is, what they spend on themselves and their salaries – we’re putting it in your hands. We are putting all that information in your hands, it’s your money – so you should know how it is being spent.”

    David Cameron, Birmingham, 6 October 2010
    =======================================================

    The Guide ot the Localism Bill is here (where the PM is quoted):

    http://www.communities.gov.uk/publications/localgovernment/localismplainenglishupdate

    Only a (nuclear) hardened cynic could think that by simply changing the delivery to a Limited Company, that would over-ride not just the deeply held principles of an elected Colaition Government, but even an Act of Parliament!

    Oh and don’t you just love that LOCOG who sell tickets to the publicly funded £10bn of PUBLIC ASSETS that WE PAID FOR are also a private limited company.

    LOCOG do NOT have to answer public interest questions to account for ticket allocation policies; or deny/confirm suspicions that sponsors get best seats at prized finals disporportionately, leaving the public crammed into the stall seats far away right at the back!

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