“A company is a “publicly-owned company” for the purposes of section 5(1)(b) if one or more public authorities own, whether directly or indirectly, shares or other interests in the company together aggregating more than half of the votes exercisable in general or other meeting of the company on any matter.

The UK could learn from the Isle of Man rather than insisting on every single share without exception being held by a public body.

Isle of Man, draft bill (from consultation document)

I am looking for a good MP to help get the Protection of Freedoms Bill amended. The changes I want made relate to Freedom of Information (FOI). Under the current FOI Act a company owned by one public body is (generally) subject to FOI itself but there is a loophole in that a company jointly owned by two or more public bodies (generally) isn’t. The Protection of Freedoms Bill seeks to close this loophole which is very welcome but there is a chance to close a few more loopholes at the same time and give FOI law a boost. If you are the good MP I refer to please get in touch (@confirmordeny)

changes needed Protection of Freedoms Bill (93)
in summary:

  • the term “wholly owned” is part of the problem as it means one privately owned share in 100 or even in 1,000 can be enough to mean a company is not publicly accountable.
  • change this to include companies where 95% of the voting shares (95% of the members for companies limited by guarantee) are owned by public bodies
  • make sure Scottish Public authorities are included when calculating proportion owned by public sector

Someone recently tweeted (@confirmordeny) “political parties that get taxpayers money should be subject to #foi”. My initial response was to disagree and I got a follow up message: “I disagree. State-funded parties are as much part of the apparatus of the state as quangos.” After this second tweet I decided the issue needs looking at in a bit more detail.

Political parties in the UK have no special powers in themselves they only really get power through their candidates winning elections by gaining sufficient support from the public. This power is exercised through public bodies e.g. House of Commons, Ministerial Departments etc and not through the parties themselves which remain private bodies. Public funding seems to be the only factor that might make it right to make political parties subject to FOI.

public funding of political parties

Major political parties do receive public funding in several forms:

European wide parties also get EU money

Organisations in receipt of substantial public funding ought to be accountable for how the money is spent not just to their own members but to all taxpayers. The present system is not transparent enough but I am still not sure making political parties subject to FOI is the right solution.

The next thing to look at is what proportion of party funding is public money.

  • Conservative Party (09 accounts): public: £5.2M, total: £42.0M. (~ 11%)
  • Labour Party (09 accounts): public: £1.0M, total: £26.8M. (~ 4%)
  • Lib Dems (09 accounts): public: £0.5M total: £4.3M (~ 12%)
  • Plaid Cymru (09 accounts): public: £0.2M total: £0.8M (~ 25%)

As far as I can tell UKIP and the Green Party got no public funding at all for 2009.

Quangos in contrast are state controlled and in most cases receive substantially all of their funding from the state.

conclusion

The Freedom of Information Act 2000 is a framework designed for public bodies that should not be imposed on private bodies not carrying out public functions and not receiving the majority of their cash from public funds.
Nevertheless political parties receive large amounts of public funding and therefore the public in general need a legal ‘right to know’ how that money is spent. The general requirement to file accounts with the Electoral Commission does not provide enough detail a new access regime is needed.

An A to Z of bodies not subject to the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (or its Scottish equivalent) that I think should be.

A – Advertising Standards Authority (ASA)

regulates advertising in the UK

alternative suggestions from readers’ comments: Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland (ACPOS)

B – British Board of Film Classification (BBFC)

classified cinema films since it was set up in 1912 and videos/ DVDs since the Video Recordings Act was passed in 1984.

C – Companies owned two thirds or more by any number of public authorities

there is a loophole in the law at present

D – District Auditors

Auditors appointed under the Audit Commission Act 1998

E – Electoral Registration Officers for public elections

currently the people responsible for maintaining the electoral register are not subject to FOI, nor are Returning Officers in public elections or counting officers in public referenda

F – Financial Reporting Council

regulator responsible for promoting confidence in corporate governance and reporting

G – Glasgow 2014 Limited

the Organising Committee of the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games

H – Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA)

central source for the collection and dissemination of statistics about publicly funded UK higher education

I – Independent Schools Inspectorate

inspection services for private schools

J – Joint Information Systems Committee (Jisc)

supports UK post-16 and higher education and research by providing leadership in the use of ICT for learning, teaching and research

K – Kingstonfirst

Kingstonfirst is the brand name for the Business Improvement District (BID) of Kingston town centre. BIDs are funded by levies raise on local businesses.

L – London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games Limited (LOCOG)

responsible for preparing and staging the Games

M – Manchester Airport Group

MAG is publicly owned by the ten local authorities of Greater Manchester

N – National Screen Agencies

UK Screen Agencies are development agencies charged with encouraging public access to film culture they receive the majority of their funding from the UK Film Council.

alternative suggestions from readers’ comments: Network Rail

O – Office of the Complaints Commissioner

investigates complaints against FSA

P – PhonepayPlus Limited

regulator for premium rate charged telecommunications services

Q – Quality Assurance Agency (QAA)

reviews quality and standards of higher education in universities and colleges

R – Royal Household

publicly funded body – see also: Royalty Free Freedom of Information

S – Scottish Community Councils

lowest tier of local government in Scotland

T – Trinity House

The Corporation of Trinity House of Deptford Strond is the General Lighthouse Authority for England, Wales, the Channel Islands and Gibraltar and it is also a Deep Sea Pilotage Authority.

U – UCAS

responsible for administration of university applications

V – Visitors of universities

investigates complaints by academic staff at certain universities [1]

W – Welsh Local Government Association (WLGA)

representative body for Welsh Local Government

X – eXam boards

set and mark examination papers and award qualifications

Y – Yourclimate

Regional Climate Change Partnership for Yorkshire and Humber

Z – Zoo inspectors

undertake zoo inspections and making their recommendations to local authorities on whether to grant a zoo licence


see also: addtofoi.co.uk