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Financial Times, 9 November 2005, Bob Sherwood, Legal Correspondent

More than 20,000 campaign groups and voluntary organisations are planning to use freedom of information laws to put companies' dealings with the public sector under unprecedented scrutiny, according to a report.

Thousands of voluntary and community groups believe the FoI regime will enable them to examine the extent of corporate influence on public authorities as never before. That could have an "enormous" impact on companies' political lobbying as campaign groups try to dig out "skeletons in the closet", the report, commissioned by the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, concludes.

Researchers found 18,000 such organisations had already used the laws, which took effect at the beginning of the year, to demand information from public bodies.

Matthew Gitsham, lead author of the report conducted by Ashridge Business School, said: "The Freedom of Information Act will have a major impact on how business interacts with government. Not only will the legislation bring a new accountability to the way in which companies lobby government, it may also reveal a few skeletons in the closet."

With the increasing involvement of private contractors with the public sector, many businesses are concerned the FoI regime may lead to the revelation of confidential and commercially sensitive information, particularly in relation to lobbying activities and bids for contracts.

................[Of the requests for information so far]Almost half of the requests were for information about how a public body had arrived at a decision, while 27 per cent were intended to "inform campaign activity", and one in five concerned information on funding criteria and decisions.

Phil Michaels, solicitor at Friends of the Earth, one of the groups that co-operated with the survey, said: "There remains an ingrained culture of secrecy in many public authorities . . . It is only through making requests, and pursuing them in the face of initial refusals, that we will create the cultural change needed."

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  • 335 Brexit, House prices and Summer 2020

    1. 1. Including the effects Brexit, where do you think average UK house prices will be relative to now in June 2020?

      • down 5% +
      • down 2.5%
      • Even
      • up 2.5%
      • up 5%

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