This blog is mainly about the governance and future of policing and crime services. (Police & Crime Commissioners feature quite a lot.) But there are also posts about the wider justice system. And because I am town councillor and political activist, local & national issues are covered a little, as well.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Freedommmmmmmmmm! (and G4S saga)

Although I find it difficult not to hear Mel Gibson's evocation of William Wallace's final word when I use the word 'freedom', this blog post is about something more mundane but much more far reaching. Today at the Labour Party conference, Sadiq Khan announced that the future Labour government (that is the one that is going to happen in 2015 or sooner) will widen the Freedom of Information Act expressly to include private sector suppliers being commissioned to run parts of public services.

This made me very happy. I think this extension is long overdue. Indeed whilst I am not claiming any credit, this is a matter I have written to Sadiq about in the past.

Although there are already provisions in the existing law to allow this, the measures are rarely used and even when they are, I suspect they are often blocked.

The arguments for this change in the law are compelling:
  • If the Queen's shilling is being spent, the money should be spent will the same level of scrutiny no matter who is running the service. This is a no-brainer as far as I am concerned. Although, as I have said before, I am still somewhat intrigued that the Taxpayers Alliance can't see this. (I might attend one of their meetings to ask them face to face.)
  • If as seems likely, even under a Labour government, that private and public sector providers will continue to compete against each other for contracts then to have one and not the other subject to FoI is patently unfair. It is not a level playing field.
  • Democracy and accountability cannot be outsourced. The idea that public bodies can fund private sector organisations and then the citizens be unable to interrogate that operational spending is clearly wrong. This law must be changed at the earliest opportunity.
Now I know that Tony Blair has gone on record to regret the passing of the FOIA saying that "you can't run government without being able to have confidential discussions with people on issues that are of profound importance". I think this matter is about a very different set of issues.

Meanwhile today, I spoke with the case officer from the Information Commissioner about my ongoing request for a copy of the risk register compiled by Lincolnshire Police about their work with G4S. I have blogged about this before, of course. Anyway, it turns out that Lincolnshire Police had not replied to her request for the information within the 20 working days they had to respond. (Although who knows why they needed more than a couple of days to assemble the information since how else would they have been able to refuse me so far...). So the case officer will get it by the end of the week, she has told me, now that she has chased them. She will then make her adjudication.

The case officer is aware, naturally, of the election timetable. However, she informed me today that even if she comes down on my side and explains to Lincolnshire Police that they should release the risk register to me, Lincs Police can still appeal that decision. If they do, who knows how long that will take...

You can imagine I am just a little bit frustrated. (I sincerely hope the risk register, once I get my hands on it, will have been worth all the hassle!)

So I am pondering what to do. I am currently contemplating starting a petition on the Government website. However, I think I will wait to see the decision from the case officer. And then react.

What do you think?

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