Freedom of Information

Freedom of Information

The idea of a freedom of information request became fully formed after the passing of the appropriately named “Freedom of Information Act” in the year 2000.

What was the FOI act?

This act set out the terms by which members of the public could reasonably request information held by public authorities due to them being given what is termed, “right of access”. Simply, “Freedom of Information” refers to the obligation of public bodies, authorities and institutions to be open and transparent about information that is in the public domain. This is information which can be requested by any member of the public.

What is included?

The act includes, for example, the spending of public money. Take your local councillor for example. Since their salary and/or expenses are covered by public money, any member of the public can request a copy or breakdown of payments of public money made to that councillor.

All such information has to be freely available, open and transparent.

What does this mean?

When a Freedom of Information request is made, the authority, which could be a school, college, local council or housing association, is legally obliged to respond within 20 days. If they don’t, then they are in breach of the Freedom of Information Act and could be subject to penalties or even prosecution.

How does this affect suppliers?

Imagine that you have lost a contract for work. You might have been confident that you submitted a detailed and thorough bid, and yet received an unsuccessful outcome response, with very little feedback as to what exactly went wrong. So how might you go about finding out which bid had been the most economically advantageous, and what exactly they included in their bid to give it the edge? This is where FOI comes in handy. It should be possible to put in a Freedom of Information request to view the winning bid for a given contract. Analyse what they did that you didn’t, see why they might have won the bid, and thus improve your efforts for next time.

But it’s not always that simple

In the majority of ITTs, there is a section dedicated to FOI. This is where tenderers are asked to state which section of the ITT they deem confidential. This ensures that no requests can be made for the information therein. So, clauses like this may well hinder your efforts to find out, for example, the price of your competitors’ bids, the price the winning bid came in at, or viewing other bidders’ responses. Indeed, if bidders want to class their prices and other information as “commercially sensitive” then you won’t be able to view that information, even if you request it under the FOI act. Imagine, if you won the tender and you had 5 competitors requesting your winning bid proposal. This may put you at a commercial disadvantage as your winning solutions, pricing, methodologies and processes are open to all.

Public money

In the public sector the majority of works are spent using public money, the “right of access” still stands and the confidentiality clause is not applicable.

FOI requests are always worth trying to allow you to see what companies in your sector are offering and how they are being innovative, so you don’t get left behind. FOI requests can be a really useful tool in helping you overcome potentially minimal feedback from the buyer on a bid that you have lost, and subsequently improve and enhance your offering next time around.

Our dedicated Tender Consultants offer a Tender Mentor service, which starts from a fixed rate of £295. These will provide you with a full review service, ensuring your work is proofread and guaranteed minimal errors ready for submission. Get in touch today!

Ask us anything via our LinkedIn forum.