Should the Freedom of Information Act be extended to charities ? What about G4S or the arms industry>

imageThe government is considering extending the Freedom of Information Act to charities and voluntary groups who receive any public funds.

I am all for openness. In fact, I sometimes get criticised inside BHT for being too open!  I think it is important that we are open and accountable, and in many ways we are, including through the reporting requirements in our statutory accounts.

Sir Stephen Bubb, who is the chief executive of the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations of which I am a member, had a letter in the Times on Saturday. I think he sets out some very strong arguments:

Sir, Charities embrace the principles of transparency as should all organisations in receipt of public money (“Ministers to put charities in spotlight with new FoI laws,” Jan 8). This includes the private sector, which receives the majority of government funding through contracts. Charity leaders would welcome any opportunity to explore with government how accountability might be extended.

“However, many organisations would find the FoI Act an obligation that diverts resources in a way most of us would not wish. Is it really sensible to extend this act to churches, sports clubs, universities and the thousands of organisations who rely on volunteers alone? Most of these will get some public money.

“Extending the act is a blunderbuss approach which would divert resources from the front line, an effect quite contrary to the government’s expressed insistence that this is a priority.”

I don’t always agree with Stephen Bubb but on this occasion he is spot on.

If the principle is to facilitate openness by any organisation that receives any public funds or subsidy, it should perhaps include G4S or perhaps the arms industry. I won’t hold my breath!


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