It’s always nice to see an idea go from a ConHome blogpost to Government policy – and I’m pleased to report that another example appears to be in the offing.
Back in August, as the Kids Company fiasco reached its peak, I suggested some ways to avoid such disasters in future. My third proposal was as follows:
‘…the Freedom of Information Act should travel with taxpayers’ cash, ensuring that it is always under the protection of transparency whether it is spent by a company, a charity or a quango. That might be an irritation for some organisations, but it should be the price of being supported by the taxpayer – if you don’t want to answer to the people for your actions, then don’t ask them to pay your bills.’
In today’s Times we learn that this is now being considered by ministers:
‘The government is instead planning to extend the act to cover charities, which are exempt from the laws despite receiving tens of millions of pounds in grants funded by the taxpayer.
The proposals follow the high-profile collapse of Kids Company last year, which had been awarded £46 million of public money since 2001.
Ministers are also considering whether the powers could be extended to private contractors working on public sector projects, but they face difficulties over which companies should be included in the laws.’
If true, then this is good news – though I hope they do indeed extend it to companies as well as charities which use taxpayers’ money. We all deserve the right to know how our cash is spent, and in an age when services are increasingly delivered by outside bodies rather than directly by the state, FOI must extend its scope to follow the money.
It would also be a notable about-turn by the Government, which was originally proposing to restrict the people’s access to public data by introducing new exemptions or extra charges (backed, shamefully, by various councils using taxpayers’ money to lobby for less transparency).
The same article reports that this attack on transparency is to be abandoned – as it should be – though there is apparently some consideration being given to increasing ministers’ powers to block releases. The farcical row over Prince Charles’ letters, in which ministers’ efforts to keep the notes secret caused far more reputational damage than releasing the missives did, should counsel against that restriction, too.