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  1. Media Law
February 8, 2016

Public support extension of FoI to cover companies carrying out public sector work

By William Turvill

The majority of the British public would like to see Freedom of Information laws strengthened to include companies providing public services, according to a new poll.

Some 60 per cent of 1,735 British adults surveyed by Yougov said they supported the idea, including 31 per cent who said they had "strong" support for it.

Ten per cent said they opposed the change, 15 per cent said they neither supported nor opposed and 14 per cent said they did not know.

The survey, commissioned by 38 Degrees and carried out on 27 and 28 January, asked: "Currently, Freedom of Information requests can only be made to public bodies and government departments. Would you support or oppose Freedom of Information laws being extended to include private companies receiving public money to provide public services?"

Lorna Greenwood, campaign manager at 38 Degrees, said: “It’s no surprise that the public wants FoI laws to be stronger. At the moment, British taxpayers don’t have the right to know how companies like G4S or Virgin are spending our money. At the moment, taxpayers’ money is falling into a black hole.

“Most of us think that freedom of information is an essential part of our democracy – it allows us to hold our government and politicians to account. That’s why hundreds of thousands of 38 Degrees members are calling on the government to extend FOI laws.

“Politicians of all parties now need to explain exactly what they will be doing to bring about the changes the public clearly demands.”

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The survey also broke the answers down by political party, gender, age, social grade and region.

The groups who most strongly supported the change were Lib Dems (78 per cent), UKIP voters (68 per cent), men (68 per cent), those aged 60 and over (71 per cent) and people living in Scotland (68 per cent).

Conservative voters were the group with the strongest opposition (14 per cent) to strengthening FoI in this way.

The survey results come as the Independent Commission on Freedom of Information prepares to make recommendations for the future of the FoI Act.

It was widely feared that the commission, set up last year, would recommend weaking the act by introducing new exemptions, fees and strengthening ministerial veto.

In response, Press Gazette, along with the Society of Editors and Holdthefrontpage, launched the Hands Off FoI campaign. A Press Gazette petition calling on the Government not to weaken FoI has been signed more than 42,000 times.

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