Using the Freedom of Information
133. We asked some witnesses whether they were anticipating
that the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) would lead to more
information being made available. In general, no witness thought
FOIA would have any effect on the disclosure of information relating
to IT projects. It was thought that exemptions would apply.
Equally, there was no evidence that FOIA was likely to put off
suppliers from bidding for public sector contracts. Sheelagh Whittaker
(EDS) told us that EDS was experienced in working under jurisdictions
that operated freedom of information legislation and that the
only test was to ensure that any claimed exceptions were genuinely
134. Avi Silverman and Tony Collins cast doubt on
departments being able to meet the terms of the FOIA in time.
Tony Collins also thought that there were enough exclusion clauses
in the Act for it to make little difference to journalists.
The full provisions of the FOIA will start to come into effect
in January 2005.
As a minimum, the FOIA will require departments and other public
bodies to set out their disclosure policy. It is likely that the
Information Commissioner and his tribunal will be requested to
consider a number of disclosure requests relating to the secretive
contractual deals that exist between departments, such as DWP,
and their suppliers. Although FOIA contains provisions for disclosure
to be denied on grounds of commercial confidentiality, it is important
to note that such exemptions are subject to a public interest
override. It remains to be seen to what extent the implementation
of the FOIA will remove the unnecessary use of commercial confidentiality
to obscure contractual deals.
135. We recommend that the Department by 1 October
2004 sets out how it proposes to deal with requests for detailed
information on publicly funded IT projects from members of the
public or other interested commercial organisations under the
provisions of the Freedom of Information Act that come into effect
in January 2005.