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Freedom of Information

Volume 718: debated on Tuesday 30 March 2010

Statement

My right honourable friend the Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Michael Wills) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

On 16 July 2009, I announced to this House the Government’s intention to consult directly academy schools, the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO), the Financial Ombudsman Service and the Universities and Colleges Admission Service (UCAS) with a view to including them within the Freedom of Information Act (“the Act”) by bringing forward a Section 5 order under that Act.

Since this Government introduced the Act in 2005, it has given the public access to information held by over 100,000 public authorities. Section 5 of the Act gives the Secretary of State the power to make an order designating new bodies as public authorities for the purposes of the Act where those bodies appear to him to perform functions of a public nature. In accordance with our continuing commitment to openness and accountability in public life, I wish to announce to the House today the decision to extend the Act to all of the bodies consulted, in so far as they perform public functions.

Having carefully considered all the evidence, it is clear that all of the bodies listed above perform functions of a public nature. I have written to each of the bodies to explain the decision in detail, and to identify the functions to which the Act will apply. However the reasons in brief are as follows:

ACPO’s functions are concerned with providing leadership for the police force, improving policing, acting as a voice for the force, encouraging high standards of performance and development, providing the strategic police response in times of national need and other ancillary and related functions. Policing is clearly recognised as a function of a public nature. For these reasons it is appropriate to include ACPO in a Section 5 order for all of its functions.

The Financial Ombudsman Service resolves disputes between consumers and providers of financial services. It was established under a statutory scheme in order to provide consumers with a quick and informal alternative to the courts. We consider that the functions of FOS appear to be functions of a public nature and that it would be appropriate to include it in a Section 5 order.

UCAS provides its member university and colleges with admissions services. Without such services, those institutions, which are bodies listed as public authorities in either the Freedom of Information Act or the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act, would need to perform these functions for themselves, and the information would be captured by those Acts. As UCAS provides these services on behalf of its members, it is clear that UCAS does perform a function of a public nature.

Finally, although independent of local authority control, academies are publicly funded schools and a part of the state education system. Provision of state education is clearly a public function and parents and local residents should be able to access the same kind of information about academy schools as for any other state-funded school. The academy trust is the body responsible for the running of the academy school. In our view, the public functions of academies are those set out in the funding agreement signed between the academy trust and the Department for Children, Schools and Families: in short, the establishment, maintenance and carrying on of an academy. We propose to include academy trusts in a Section 5 order for these purposes from the point at which they enter into funding agreements.

The order will be laid and debated at the earliest possible opportunity in the next parliamentary Session, with the intention that it will commence in October 2011.