Scottish Liberal Democrat MSP Tavish Scott had today called for private sector companies which deliver public sector services to be subject to Freedom of Information requests, saying that firms with a crucial role in supplying the basic infrastructure of the country must be accountable to the public.
Speaking ahead of a Scottish Parliament opposition day debate on transparency on Wednesday 20th June, Mr Scott cited ScotRail and contractors such as Carillion delivering the Aberdeen West Peripheral Route as examples of significant public infrastructure in which there was a clear public interest in greater transparency.
In a recent speech to the IPPR think tank, UK Liberal Democrat leader Sir Vince Cable called for reform of FOI laws in England to allow closer scrutiny of firms delivering public contracts as well as consideration be given to the creation of new legal entities for companies that regularly deliver public sector contracts.
A survey by the Scottish Information Commissioner previously found that 81% of the public think organisations building and maintaining schools and hospitals should be subject to FOI.
Public procurement of services is currently worth £11billion each year.
Mr Scott said:
"Under the SNP, firms like Carillion or ScotRail have been handed multi-million pound contracts to supply the basic infrastructure that we all rely upon to go about our daily business. But the public are left with little recourse to uncover how taxpayer's money is being spent and what level of performance is being achieved. They want to know whether the contractors maintaining our roads or running our railways and prisons are doing a good job.
"That's why Scottish Liberal Democrats are calling for Freedom of Information laws to be extended to private bodies performing public services. Some of these firms are vast behemoths handling as much public money as a government department or council, so this is a crucial step to making these firms accountable to the public in return.
"This week the information commissioner offered a stern rebuke to the Scottish Government's secretive approach to governance and ordered them to deliver a new plan of action by the September.
“As a sign of good faith the SNP should commit to not only delivering the improvements that the Information Commissioner has demanded but take proactive steps to improve transparency by opening these valuable contracts to greater scrutiny.
"Scottish Liberal Democrats want to strengthen and expand the FOI rights of the public. SNP ministers should not be content keeping us all in the dark."