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

Dear Information Commissioner
I am writing in a personal capacity to seek clarification about the ICO’s approach to requests to specific Government Ministers.

It has come to my attention that the ICO has stated in a letter that “the Ministers for Health” and the “Prime Minister” are not public authorities for the purposes of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 FS50173182[1] . Is this the ICO’s official position?

“Any government department” is included in the list of public authorities in schedule 1. In Section 84 of the Act defines the term “government department” is define to include “any other body or authority exercising statutory functions on behalf of the Crown”.

The Prime Minister exercises a number of important statutory functions on behalf of the Crown for example the PM has the power to make emergency regulations under section 20 of the Civil Contingencies Act 2004.

In fact, all ministers exercise statutory functions on behalf of the Crown for example the “Power of Ministers and departments to offset greenhouse gas emission” under section 87 of the Climate Change Act 2008.

Even if however the Commissioner takes the view that individual ministers are not public authorities is it not the case that the information they hold in their capacity as ministers is information held by a Government Department or by another person on behalf of a Government department?

Schedule 1 of the Act lists public bodies as oppose to listing employees, directors, agents or officers of such bodies. I consider that this supports my view that one can make a valid FOI request to the Prime Minister or any other Minister.

To be clear I am not interested in information held by ministers in their capacity of being an MP. I am only interested in information they hold by virtue of being a minister.

I would be most grateful if you could provide clarification on this point.

[1] http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/10189/response/26089/attach/2/R%20scanned%20copies%20of%20all%20FOI%20cases%20listed%20in%20request.PDF.pdf

regards,

I was reading the ICO’s Annual Report and I noticed on page 7 that the list of laws that the ICO enforces now includes:

“The Infrastructure for Spatial Information in the European Community Regulations 2009″ (The regulations are subject to a staged implementation – I don’t fully understand the timing of the implementation yet).

I found the regulations on statutelaw under the shorter title ‘the INSPIRE Regulations 2009‘. I have also found the explanatory memorandum.

There is Defra site as well: http://location.defra.gov.uk/inspire/

The impact of these regulations could be interesting for supporters of increased transparency. A summary follows:

Summary of INSPIRE Regulations

The regulations apply to public authorities and “spatial data” means any data with a direct or indirect reference to a specific location or geographical area.

Public authority is defined in much the same way as in the Environmental Information Regulations 2004, it includes almost all bodies which people would normally call public bodies and it is arguable that water companies, the National Grid etc might also be covered.

Regulation 6
A public authority or a third party must create metadata in relation to any spatial data set or spatial data service for which that authority or third party is responsible.

Regulation 7
A public authority or a third party must establish and operate certain services in relation to spatial data sets:

“making it possible to search for spatial data sets and spatial data services on the basis of the content of the corresponding metadata”

“view services making it possible, as a minimum, to display, navigate, zoom in and out, pan, or overlay viewable spatial data sets and to display legend information”

“download services, enabling copies of spatial data sets, or parts of such sets, to be downloaded and, where practicable, accessed directly;”

“transformation services, enabling spatial data sets to be transformed with a view to achieving interoperability”

Regulation 8
Is about linking spatial data sets together.

Regulation 9
Access by the public to a spatial data set or spatial data service by means of a service specified in regulation 7 may be limited only if there is an ‘exemption’ available. There are about ten exemptions relating to personal data, national security, the confidentiality of commercial or industrial information, protection of the environment and so on and except for personal data they are all subject to a public interest test.

The YourFreedom website lists hundreds of ways in which could be changed but I have decided to take a look at some of the ideas which are consistent with republican principles.

Ideas on the site are supposed to fall into at least one of the following headings:

  • restoring civil liberties
  • repealing unnecessary laws
  • cutting business and third sector regulations

There are a lot of ideas on the site which don’t actually fall under any of the above headings.  I wish to highlight some of the better ideas that republicans might like to support:

separating church and state

ending discrimination

civil liberties

steps to a better constitution

I may need to update this post from time to time.

“We can now operate regional closed user groups.  These are local groups where people contribute with regard to local matters.  You will not see a group unless you are a member of one.  The main benefits include confidentiality, NAIM is not subject to FOI, a reduction in inbox content, an archive of issues etc etc.”

If you are not a member then click the join us link on the left. Registration is always easier when using a business e-mail address and public service addresses such as .gov.uk, .ac.uk, .nhs etc. Where personal e-mail addresses are provided we will usually require confirmation of your reasons for joining. Acceptable categories do not include casual interest or non related information management functions.”

http://www.naim.uk.net/ 

[NAIM stands for National Association for Information Management]

It is clear they are targeting public sector workers who are also ‘information managers’.


“My Lords, does not the Minister feel thoroughly ashamed that a Government who came to power committed to freedom of information and ending the culture of secrecy in Whitehall cannot even provide a list of the times and dates when the Prime Minister saw the most powerful media magnate in the world?”

Source: Theyworkforyou

“My Lords, does the Minister agree that a fee structure that charged exorbitant fees for freedom of information would in fact be the freedom to dine at the Ritz?”

Source: Theyworkforyou

“I have the pleasure of moving this amendment on behalf of my noble friends Lord Goodhart and Lord Lester. It would replace the unlimited period for disclosing information in the public interest with a 20-day limit. We strongly believe in the amendment.”

Source: Theyworkforyou

“perhaps it is something that the CBI and the private sector will have to take on board–that doing business with the public sector, which for many companies is very profitable indeed and very attractive, carries with it certain freedom of information responsibilities.”

Source: Theyworkforyou

“the crux of debate today is on Clause 34 of the Bill, “Prejudice to effective conduct of public affairs”. Where we part from the Government is that they still believe that the effective conduct of public affairs requires too much secrecy. We believe that effective conduct of public affairs comes from accountability and transparency. Ministers may deny it; but a profound change has taken place in the Government’s attitude to freedom of information since taking office.”

“There was a good example of that last weekend when it was reported that an apparent tiff between Sir Anthony Eden and Churchill about the timing of Churchill’s retirement had been kept secret for 50 years. It seems extraordinary that that should be so. A number of the embargos on the workings of government, the security services and royalty belong to a different age.”

Source: Theyworkforyou


another from: Theyworkforyou

Recently, a WhatDoTheyKnow.com volunteer was answering a query from a user of the site and was surprised to learn that the site already had the Deer Commission for Scotland listed. It was noted that Whatdotheyknow.com has quite a lot of public bodies as of 12:30pm today there are 3,303 public authorities sites on the site although 74 of these authorities are now marked as defunct. You might also want to exclude the 27 Water Companies, although these are ‘public authorities’ for the purposes of the Environmental Information Regulations. That still leaves about 3,200 active public authorities. So the next question for me is: how many public bodies are there in the UK?
The answer is no-one knows.

“We discovered early on that there are no precise figures for the very large number of people who are appointed to this great variety of public bodies and positions, nor even for how many public bodies exist.”

Select Committee on Public Administration Fourth Report (2003)

So if no-one has a complete list how does Whatdotheyknow.com’s list of about 3,200 compare to other lists and directories – who has the most comprehensive list?

The Cabinet Office’s best effort is probably Public Bodies 2008 which puts the number of non-department at 790 (sometimes called Quangos). Added to that there are around 24 Government Departments listed bring the total to 814. These numbers exclude schools, colleges, universities, local government, the police, the NHS, and devolved government in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, in other words this list of public bodies excludes more than it includes. The Tax Payers’ Alliance put the number of Quangos at 1,162.

What is almost unique about Whatdotheyknow.com’s list of public authorities is that it covers the whole lot (central, regional and local government, Parliament, the NHS, the Police, educational institutions, housing associations, publicly owned companies etc)

I say almost unique because buried in a dark corner of the Office for National Statistics website that is actually quite useful, it is called MA23 or to give it its full name the Sector Classification Guide. In order to prepare ‘National Accounts’ for Europe the Government has to have some kind of list of public sector bodies and MA23 contains that list.

The classification is not decided based on the political considerations of the current government but on internationally agreed definitions e.g. central government s1311, Public non-financial corporations and for this reason is more comprehensive than all the other lists the Government publishes.

MA23 lists the following rows:

  • 1,018 central government bodies
  • 42 central government funds
  • 3 central banks
  • 369 public corporations
  • 5 public insurance corporations and pension funds
  • 377 local government bodies
  • 3 local government funds

I make that about 1,800 in total but many of the rows are not for a single named public authority but for a whole class of public authorities. MA23 certainly does not contain a more comprehensive lists of public authorities than Whatdotheyknow.com but is very useful and includes some less well known bodies such as:

  • Dorneywood Trust
  • Eblex Limited
  • Jebwill
  • Orford Town Trustees
  • World Poultry Science Association
  • Yorkshire and Humber Regional Aggregation Body

The COINS database is less comprehensive and perhaps more influenced by UK politics but it does contain over 1,700 public authorities.

EDM 589 is included on Parliament’s topical issues webpages:

Freedom of Information topic

Please write to your MP and ask them to sign if they have not already done so:

That this House notes that section 6 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000, with certain exceptions, makes companies wholly owned by the Crown or by a single public authority subject to the Act; further notes that a company wholly owned by two or more public authorities or 95 per cent. owned by a single public authority will be outside the scope of the Freedom of Information Act 2000; and calls for the closure of this loophole and for companies owned 90 per cent. or more by any number of public authorities to be subject to the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act 2000.