Indies could face FoI ‘requirements’

Independent learning providers could become subject to Freedom of Information (FoI) Act “requirements” under government proposals.

Firms that “carry out public functions” figure in the plans of Justice Minister Simon Hughes (pictured), meaning that Skills Funding Agency contractors, along with Education Funding Agency contractors, could be affected.

He told MPs in the House of Commons: “We intend to publish a revised code of practice to make sure that private companies that carry out public functions have freedom of information requirements in their contracts and go further than that.”

He said the government wanted to extend the FoI Act “as soon as is practical,” but a spokesperson for the Association of Employment and Learning Providers said he did not expect “significant” change.
It was unclear whether the proposals applied to subcontractors.

Mr Hughes revealed the proposals in response to a question from Lindsay Roy MP, who asked: “What benefits have accrued to the government and citizens from the implementation of the act, and when does the minister plan to extend its scope further?”

It came on Tuesday, March 18 — just days after the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee (PAC) denounced the “veil of secrecy” around contracts awarded to large companies like G4S, which is currently an Ofsted grade four apprenticeship employer provider, and called for FoI legislation to cover government contracts.

The AELP spokesperson said: “We understand that providers won’t be made directly subject to FoI and as they already cooperate with the SFA, which is subject to requests, it doesn’t appear that we are looking at a significant change.”

The Freedom of Information Act currently requires any government or publically funded organisation to give out any information on request but does not currently include private firms.

The PAC report Contracting out public services to the private sector was published on March 14 and among its recommendations was for the Cabinet Office to “explore how the FoI regime could be extended to cover contracts with private providers, including the scope for an FoI provision to be included in standard contract terms”.