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This article explains the general principles of the Freedom of Information Act 2000, which came fully into force on 1 January 2005, and focuses on the things you should consider when disclosing information to the public sector. If your business regularly deals with the public sector, you will need to be aware of the implications of the Act. Subject to certain exceptions, the new law gives any person, including foreign nationals and companies, the right to access any information held by public authorities (including tender documents and the contracts for the supply of goods or services). The purpose of it is to promote efficiency, accountability and transparency within government and to create openness in the public procurement marketplace. If you have submitted tenders to the public sector in the past but have not been successful, the Act allows you to ask to see what the successful contractor proposed to secure those contracts. If you simply want to see what your competitors are up to in the public sector field, the Act also permits you to ask for that information. However, the flip side is that it allows the general public, and therefore your competitors, to ask for information that a public authority holds about your business, which may be commercially sensitive (such as your know-how, pricing mechanisms, business methods and internal policies).
Date of Publication: April-May 2005