Freedom of information law is to be extended to private companies carrying out public contracts, a Justice Minister has said.
Liberal Democrat Simon Hughes said the change would be written into the contracts of companies after the publication of a new code of practice, which he said should be in place by the end of this year.
"We do intend to extend [freedom of information] further as soon as it will be practical," he told MPs at Justice Questions in the House of Commons.
"We intend to publish a revised code of practice to make sure that those private companies that carry out public functions have freedom of information requirements in their contracts, and go further than that, and we hope that will be in place by the end of this year."
Sounds fair enough. If a company receives taxpayer funding, the taxpayer should be entitled to ask questions about what is being done with it. An obvious downside is that said company will incur a cost in complying and will pass that cost onto its customers (i.e. the taxpayer) but the principle is sound.
By the same token, though, there are other organisations which happily receive a lot of tax receipts from government who are exempt from the FOIA and - by the same token - should also be included in any extended FOI rules.
Step forward ASH who received £150k of their annual budget from the Department of Health last year. Or how about ASH Wales who derive 73% of their income from state bodies? Or perhaps Smokefree South West who are 100% tax-funded and currently spending their way through £1.4 million of your money in this financial year?
There are many, many others we could mention, all of which enjoy taking your cash but who are exempt from the Freedom of Information Act and can safely ignore you if you chose to ask for, say, correspondence between themselves and their 'supporting charities'. Shouldn't they be subject to scrutiny too, Mr Hughes?
Fair's fair, I say.