Companies that provide public services will not be brought within the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). This was one of the last announcements from the Government before the summer holidays.

This decision goes against all pronouncements made in recent months. As recently as June the Prime Minister pledged to extend the law on freedom of information to include private bodies who carry out public functions at public expense as part of a package of constitutinal reform. Although this might be kept under review no change is on the horizon.

Extending FOIA requests to the private sector would open up private companies awarded public sector contracts to greater scrutiny. Greater FOIA powers would be likely to include private providers of IT services and other organisations awarded public contracts and NHS suppliers. This might include, for example, private providers of healthcare and nursing services. At the moment these companies are not subject to the same requests for information as the NHS. Although the NHS may be required to release some (but by no means all) of the information it holds on private companies.

It seems the justice ministry has bowed to the arguments of employers' organisations that meeting FOIA requests would add to the costs of contracts.