Submitted by Group 4
Group 4 would like to stress at the outset that
it welcomes the principle of widening freedom of information.
We already hold public service contracts in other countries where
freedom of information legislation is on the statute book.
Our service provision to the public sector in
the UK includes managing prisons and detention centres, the escorting
of detainees and prisoners between establishments, and a number
of manned guarding and other contracts.
We have a small number of specific concerns
about the legislation as currently proposed, which we have outlined
in this document. They could be collectively described as issues
which we believe lack clarity. We would like to believe that the
provisions in the draft Bill will cover them sufficiently, but
we are not sure.
As a contractor providing a number of services
to the public sector, Group 4 has always recognised its responsibility
to be open and accountable and acted accordingly. In many areas,
our contracts have been scrutinised in infinite detail by elected
representatives, the media, pressure groups, official inspectors
and other bodies.
There are really only two areas where potential
disclosure would give us real cause for concern. These are:
some areas of financial detail; and
matters which should be covered by
intellectual property rights in terms of creative and innovative
We understand the general provisions in the
Bill which would protect our commercial interests, and equally
we understand the need for transparency, but we are not clear
exactly where the dividing line lies.
2.1 Financial details
Clause 3(4) of the draft Bill says that "nothing
in this Act applies to information which is held by the public
authority designated by the order but does not relate to the provision
of those services" [under contract]. Does this, for example,
cover financial information provided to the authority, in pursuit
of a contract, relating to the contractor's general standing and
We feel that there is still confusion here between
specific contract information and what might be described as corporate
information, which we feel might logically be argued to be relevant.
2.2 Intellectual property rights
In the course of tendering for contracts in
the public sector, Group 4 has been a pioneer in certain areas,
and therefore our tenders and successful contracts have contained
innovative ideas and solutions and methods of achieving these.
The draft Bill contains a list of Acts which
it supersedes in the area of openness, but the list does not contain
the Companies Act. Would our intellectual property rights be covered
by clause 34(1)"information is exempt information
if it constitutes a trade secret"?
In our response to the White Paper, we noted
that it promised that "appropriate requirements will be included
in the individual contracts between public authorities and contractors".
We recommended that this initiative be pushed back a stage and
that, when tenders are issued for any public sector project, an
indication is given by the public authority concerned as to which
information it is proposed will be required to be available for
disclosure and which will not.
The Freedom of Information White Paper (December
1997) proposed that the Act should be retrospective. Are we right
to assume, although it is not specified, that this is the case?
It would assist us in our work for the public sector to know one
way or the other.
5. EXEMPT BODIES
It is not clear how contractors to exempt bodies
are to be treated and would welcome clarification.