Labour’s ‘freedom of information’ plans are toothless

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Labour’s promise to expand the reach of freedom of information (FoI) requests to cover private companies, such as G4S or Capita, in relation to their public service work will be meaningless as long as those companies, along with government departments, can use clever excuses to duck out of their responsibilities.

Shadow Justice Secretary Sadiq Khan, interviewed by The Guardian, said more and more public services, funded by taxpayers, are being run by private companies who are outside the scope of freedom of information.

That is why Labour will expand the reach of FoI requests, opening up up private contractors that run prisons, courtroom and health services to public scrutiny.

There’s only one problem: Government departments already have a range of excuses available, with which to bat away any inconvenient requests.

Just take a look at this article on the politics.co.uk website, detailing a few of these tricks. Vox Political‘s own FoI request for up-to-date statistics on the number of people who have died while going through the ESA claim or appeal process is currently stalled, having run into a ‘section 22’ exemption on the grounds that the information will be published at a future date.

It has not been made clear how far in the future this date may be, but, considering some of the requested information is now more than three years old, it seems likely that the Department for Work and Pensions is waiting for Hell to freeze over.

Here’s another article, from the Huffington Post, showing how even the simplest, easiest-to-answer requests are being rejected.

Why should we believe private companies will be any more open to examination than government departments?

Follow me on Twitter: @MidWalesMike

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5 thoughts on “Labour’s ‘freedom of information’ plans are toothless

  1. thelovelywibblywobblyoldlady

    Good article Mike and it echos what I’ve said for some time; that NO private organisation that receives public money should in any way be exempt from FoI. I take your point about how some private companies will try and dodge revealing statistics and the like. However, ACPO tried a similar thing (they received funds from the Home Office and were running a private company ACRO) but it was stated in that case that the “contract” was not between the taxpayer/private citizen and ACRO, but was between ACPO (who received public funding) and ACRO.

    Freedom of information

    ACPO had been criticised as being unaccountable to Parliament or the public by virtue of its limited company status. In October 2009 Sir Hugh Orde stated that ACPO would be “more than happy” to be subject to the Freedom of Information Act. On 30 March 2010, the Ministry of Justice announced that ACPO would be included under the FOI Act from October 2011. In its response, the organisation stated that “Although organisations cannot voluntarily comply with the Act, a large proportion of ACPO’s work is public already or available under FOI through any police force”. In January 2011 its website still said it: “is unable to do is to respond to requests for information under the Act. The organisation is too small and there are too few members of staff to be able to conduct the necessary research and to compile the responses”. Since November 2011, however, FOI requests can be made to ACPO.

  2. Steve Grant

    If you asked the voters if they wanted private companies to do government work,especially corrupt American companies they would overwhelmingly say NO…why should the tax payer give money to these foreign companies who after all all are just doing what any competent UK company could do in the government sector…..but hiving off money abroad to the US.

  3. Jeffery Davies

    Are they listening having these companies dipping into the tax pot isnt saving any monies infact it causes fraudulent claims by these companies so ridden the tax payers of them will bring back jobs and that money that isnt now going offshore bring back into government hands not private dippers so why are they talking about
    foi thered be no need if they not there jeff3

  4. Ian

    Here’s an idea, ‘Labour’ ministers; instead of expanding the FoI to include private contractors, how about not using private contractors in the first place?

    Labour has enough to say about welfare, letting the Tories set the tone, but nothing about corporate welfare.

  5. Thomas

    It’s good that you do criticise Labour when it messes up. Some things should be kept secret, but only when it would otherwise get someone murdered or maimed, would lead to money or stuff getting stolen, or would cause serious international trouble.

Comments are closed.