Business leaders are preparing transparency guidelines for private companies running public services, amid calls for the sector to be subject to the Freedom of Information Act.  

The CBI, which represents business, is in the early stages of drawing up recommendations for the approach, HSJ has learned. A source at one company involved in creating the guidelines described them as an “industry version of the FOI”.

However, a CBI spokesman told HSJ the guidelines would “not [be] a replica of the FOI Act”.

The move comes as pressure grows on private companies with NHS contracts to be subject to freedom of information rules.

In its March report A fair playing field for the benefit of NHS patients the NHS sector regulator Monitor called for the “government and commissioners [to] ensure that transparency, including FOI requirements, is implemented across all types of provider of NHS services on a consistent basis”.

A CBI spokesman told HSJ the plans were being drawn up by the CBI’s public service strategy board, which includes representatives from leading health care outsourcing firms including Serco, Circle and Capita.  

CBI director of competitive markets Matthew Fell is overseeing the project.

He told HSJ: “We are working on a set of best practice recommendations for our members [which carry out public sector contracts].

“It is very much in its infancy, [but] it is not a replica of the FOI Act.” He added that “the work was prompted by the public debate about transparency”.

However, a spokesman for Serco suggested to HSJ the work could develop into a freedom of information system.

He told HSJ: “[Chief executive of Serco UK & Europe] Jeremy Stafford is leading some work with CBI that recognises that private organisations providing public services need to be more transparent.

“They are working on an industry version of FOI.”

NHS hospital providers have called for private NHS providers to be subject to the FOI Act.

Foundation Trust Network chief executive Chris Hopson told HSJ: “We believe that freedom of information responsibilities should apply equally to all providers of NHS services, regardless of provider type.”

The government has yet to respond to the Fair Playing Field report.