Should suppliers to government be subject to Freedom of Information?

(We’re pleased to feature another guest post from Ian Makgill of Ticon & GovMark, who carry out research into public procurement for potential suppliers to govenrment).

Margaret Hodge, MP, scourge of dodgy suppliers

Margaret Hodge, Chair of the Commons Public Accounts Committee, is becoming a real thorn in the side of suppliers who she feels have not delivered as they should on public contracts. But she has now suggested that suppliers to government should be subject to Freedom of Information (FOI) legislation.

"We ought to amend the Freedom of Information Act so that private companies are compelled to share with the public information on contracts which are funded with public money […] we need to be able to follow the taxpayers' pound."

I've been trying to find some merit in this idea and I'm stumped. The only rational explanation is that Ms Hodge is deliberately overplaying her hand as a part of a bid to prevent the FOI legislation being watered down during its current review. If that is the case, I applaud her to the rafters, on the other hand if she genuinely supports this measure, then she may just have taken leave of her senses.

Now of course public sector bodies are sometimes too quick to use commercial confidence to hide information, and FOI should cover what is done in the name of the buyer where it has genuine public interest.

But imagine sitting behind a desk at Slaughter and May (or any large law firm) and having to explain to your colleagues that you're required to make public details of all the work you've been engaged on with Government, including details of cases, meetings held, and anything else that wasn't marked commercially sensitive?

Better still can you imagine the meeting at Sodexo head office in France when they receive their first FOI request? Subjecting 23% of our economy to this sort of burden isn't exactly going to make the UK the most compelling place to do business, and do anything to stimulate economic growth, employment or even better service delivery from these suppliers.

(Editor's Note: we'll have a very different view on this topic tomorrow - stay tuned for that).

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Voices (2)

  1. John Diffenthal:

    I should point out that a large number of commercial companies including catering and waste collection and recycling companies are already cooperating on Freedom of Information requests. I can’t speak for Sodexo but I expect they have responded to their fair share. Those requests aren’t made direct to the organisations concerned of course but to the council that has let the contract.

    Councils have the responsibility to demonstrate that they are spending public money carefully and FOI is a vehicle for armchair auditors to get access to information.

  2. Clark Kent:

    But if we outsource the business to them why not? should account directors be paid a salary higher than the pm if their job is to sell to the public sector?

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