The Government has issued a policy statement on the availability and accuracy of information – or ‘transparency’ – on publicly funded services.
Published by the Cabinet Office, the statement sets out a requirement for the proactive release of information under the Government’s existing commitment to publish contract information.
The overarching transparency principles include that all suppliers will support the Government in driving transparency.
These also state that:
- There should be a presumption in favour of disclosure, with exemptions following the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act. This presumption “should apply to the vast majority of commercial information about government contracts, with commercial confidentiality being the exception rather than the rule. To achieve this, Government and its suppliers should adopt a limited and precise working definition of commercial confidentiality, encompassing categories of information that would diminish a supplier’s competitive edge.”
- Categories of information that could be reasonably withheld on the grounds of commercial confidentiality include pricing, intellectual property and business plans.
- There should be agreement between suppliers and Government – “as early as practicable in a contract and as a matter of good commercial practice” – over what categories of information should be exempted. These exemptions will be set out in their contracts when feasible. These contracts should be published online on Contracts Finder when the contract is valued over £10,000.
- Government contracts should be subject to audit. “Contracts will set out the types of audit envisaged throughout the life of the contract so that suppliers can better price this activity. Contracts over £20m should routinely include an annual audit. This will not limit the rights of the National Audit Office to audit Government contacts.”
- There will be access rights for the Comptroller and Auditor General to Government contracts.
The document, The Transparency of Suppliers and Government to the Public, also covers: principles governing the proactive release of information to the public; and principles governing the release of information on public request.
In addition, the publication addresses the issue of the financial transparency of strategic suppliers to government.
All central government departments are to follow the principles set out.
The document said transparency and accountability of public service delivery was key as it built the public’s trust and confidence in public services, enabled citizens to see how taxpayers’ money was being spent and enabled the performance of public services to be independently scrutinised.
The statement of principles is intended to affirm that:
- "Citizens are entitled to know how taxpayers’ money is spent through the disclosure of information and appropriate auditing of public service delivery publicising good performance is integral to spreading good practice;
- Highlighting underperformance helps hold Government and its suppliers to account;
- Embedding common transparency standards and practices, and contextualising information where appropriate, makes it easier for the public to access and compare delivery information;
- While recognising that competition: spreads innovation and raises standards by challenging services to improve their performance; and underpins transparency by identifying and rewarding success but to improve services companies’ competitiveness needs to be protected.
- Companies that deliver public services must be mindful of their existing legal and other obligations, including (but not limited to): competition law; contractual obligations and key performance indicators, including the Freedom of Information Act (FoIA) and client confidentiality; the Corporate Governance Code; the Data Protection Act; employment law; Environmental Information Regulations; existing voluntary codes of conduct; Inspection and sector regulatory regimes; public procurement law; tax law."
The policy statement can be viewed here.