Contractors should be required to disclose the pricing of all public contracts, a parliamentary watchdog has said.
In a report published today, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) argued that private providers too often use ‘commercial confidentiality’ clauses to block the disclosure of financial information.
"If transparency is to be meaningful and comprehensive, private organisations providing public services under contract must make available all relevant public information,” the committee said.
It called on the Cabinet Office to set out policies requiring public bodies to build full disclosure requirements into all contracts.
The PAC also argued that the greater use of private or charitable providers to deliver services should be matched by greater transparency, to ensure that the taxpayer is getting value for money.
By way of example, it noted that academies are not currently required to release details of per pupil spending – making it difficult to compare their value when compared to mainstream schools.
The coalition government came to power promising a ‘transparency agenda’, arguing that publishing more comparative data and increasing user choice would drive up the quality of public services.
But the PAC today expressed its concern about the poor or incomplete nature of the data that the government is publishing.
The committee’s chairman, Labour MP Margaret Hodge, said that the PAC supported the transparency agenda. “But the government has a lot more work to do before that potential is realised,” she said.
“It is simply not good enough to dump large quantities of raw data into the public domain. It must be accessible, relevant and easy for us all to understand. At the moment too much data is poorly presented and difficult to interpret.”
She added that, in some sectors, “there are big gaps in the information provided so users cannot use it to make informed choices”.
The PAC also warned that the government has “not yet developed a full understanding” of costs and benefits of making information transparent.
“Decisions on what data to make available and in what form are not yet guided by value for money considerations,” the committee added.