The Independent View: Close the Freedom of Information loophole

John Cross from the MySociety team writes about their latest campaign:

On New Year’s Day 2005, when the Freedom of Information Act 2000 came into force it was described in the Government Press Release as “one of the most generous Freedom of Information regimes in the world.” The reality has been mixed, information released has lead to thousands of news stories but there are still too many loopholes that can be used to avoid or delay the release of information that really ought to be made public.

I recently wrote to MP about one of the worst of the loopholes which means that while a company wholly owned by one local authority is subject to the Act, a company owned by two local authorities is not. My MP, Peter Bottomley, was convinced that this did not make sense and so he submitted an Early Day Motion calling for the loophole to be closed. This EDM also highlights the fact that currently a company owned 95% or even 99.5% by a single public authority is not subject to the Act, as only companies owned 100% by a single authority are covered.

EDM 589 calls for “the closure of this loophole and for companies owned 90 per cent. or more by any number of public authorities to be subject to the Freedom of Information Act 2000.” I urge you all to write to your MP, and ask them to support the EDM which the motion which is currently open for MPs to sign. Six Lib Dem MPs have already signed and I hope many more will follow.

Setting up jointly owned companies can be a good way for public authorities to reduce duplication and save tax payers’ money. What is problematic though is the loss of accountability which currently occurs when public bodies come together and set up these companies without requiring them to follow the highest standards of transparency and accountability.

Examples of companies which will be made subject to FOI once the loophole is closed:

  • Coventry and Solihull Waste Disposal Company – owned two thirds by Coventry City Council and one third by Solihull MBC
  • Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) – this company is the official agency for the collection, analysis and dissemination of quantitative information about higher education.
  • Manchester Airport PLC – the Manchester Airport Group is owned by the ten local authorities of Greater Manchester
  • The Russell Group – is owned by, and represents 20 of the UK’s largest universities, the company’s aims “to influence and make representations to stakeholders and legislators”

Many housing associations, purchasing consortia, representative bodies and urban development companies will also be required to operate in a more transparent manner when this loophole is closed.

The Independent View‘ is a slot on Lib Dem Voice which allows those from beyond the party to contribute to debates we believe are of interest to LDV’s readers. Please email[email protected] if you are interested in contributing.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds and The Independent View.
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2 Comments

  • Sheila Oliver 28th Jan '10 - 10:10pm

    Have a look at the What Do They Know freedom of information website under Stockport and have a look at what the LibDem council is covering up regarding a school for 550 primary pupils they tried to build on a still gassing, former toxic waste dump on which they intended to carry out no contamination remediation whatsoever. Fortunately, as a result of a diversion of footpath inquiry, they had to reveal the site was entirely contaminated by asbestos, lead and arsenic before bringing down the Iron Curtain of secrecy once again. The finance is iffy too. The LibDems at Stockport will drag you all into disrepute, hopefully before the next election. Someone needs to rein in their excesses.

  • Have asked my MP to look into this now and to support the EDM. Thanks for pointing it out John.

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