MP seeks more FOI powers from contractors after Grenfell
Andy Slaughter (Image: WikiCommons)
An MP is pushing for more powers to force contractors and housing associations to be subject to Freedom of Information (FOI) requests, in the wake of the Grenfell Tower disaster and Carillion collapse.
The news comes ahead of the anniversary of the Grenfell Tower fire on 14 June 2017, in which 72 people died.
Andy Slaughter, the Labour MP for Hammersmith, has introduced a private members' bill that would bring public service contractors, housing associations and other bodies under the Freedom of Information Act.
The Freedom of Information (Extension) Bill, which is backed by the Campaign for Freedom of Information, will undergo a second reading debate in the Commons on Friday 15 June.
At present, information held by contractors delivering public services is only available under FOI if the contract indicates as such. If the contract does not contain such a clause, the public has no right to the information.
The bill, which the Campaign for Freedom of Information has drafted, would bring all contractor-held information about the performance of the contract within the Act’s scope. It could be obtained by a request to the public authority, subject to the Act’s exemptions.
The bill would give the Information Commissioner new powers to obtain information from contractors when investigating complaints and make them subject to the offence applying to public authorities which deliberately destroy requested information to prevent its disclosure.
It would also close a loophole which blocks such prosecutions unless they are brought within six months of the offence occurring.
The Campaign pointed to recent examples where it has proved impossible to obtain information about public contracts.
That included a report on fire safety defects in the CT scanner room of a hospital, which an NHS trust used under a PFI contract. The contract did not give the trust the right to such information from the PFI body, which meant that when an FOI request was made for it by the trust, it could not be obtained.
The bill would also make housing associations subject to FOI. The proposal comes after 54 of 61 housing associations refused to supply their fire risk assessments to Inside Housing magazine in 2017, while a tenant was refused information about the cause of a fire on their premises.
Slaughter said: "A third of all public spending now goes on public services provided by private companies or charities, but too often information about them falls outside the reach of the FOI Act. It needs to keep pace with this enormous change in public service delivery."
Maurice Frankel, director of the Campaign for Freedom of Information said: "The public pays for and depends on these services, regardless of whether they are provided by an authority’s own staff or a contractor’s. The right to know should not depend on the logo on the jackets of the staff delivering them."