Cabinet Office Minister Matt Hancock has refused to say whether the government will extend the Freedom of Information Act to private companies operating with public money.

Appearing at Cabinet Office questions Hancock was asked twice whether he would move to extend the FOI Act, but failed to commit to improving the transparency law.

Hancock was questioned by SNP MP Margaret Ferrier and Jo Stevens whether he believed it would be in the public interests to include the private companies. He said he “cannot” offer any assurance that it would happen”

The questions came on the back of the publication of the 21-recommendation report from the Independent Commission on Freedom of Information.

“The issue that the hon. Lady has raised is a complex one,” Hancock said in response to the questions.

“For instance, we do not want to deter small businesses from supplying into government. We will consider what was written by the commission, even though no formal recommendation was made.”

The commission had also stopped short of saying the Act should be extended to private providers of public services, although the area had not be initially listed in its terms of reference.

“In our view extending the Act directly to private companies who deliver outsourced public services would be burdensome and unnecessary,” the Commission said (.pdf).

“But we are persuaded that information concerning the performance or delivery of public services under contract should be treated as being held on behalf of the contracting public authority. This would make such information available to requestors who make requests to the contracting public authority.”

The Labour Party has called for private contractors operating public services to be included under the scope of FOI for a number of years.

I am a journalist and author. I am a journalist at the UK edition of WIRED magazine. In 2015, my first book Freedom of Information: A Practical Guide for UK Journalists, was published. My second book Reed Hastings: Building Netflix, was published in March 2020. I created FOI Directory in 2012 and have maintained it in my spare time ever since.