Openness, transparency and accountability

Who does the guidance apply to?

This section applies to all public bodies, and is aimed at all public bodies and sponsors.

Overview of guidance

This guidance provides information on how public bodies should be open, transparent and accountable. The guidance covers information on relevant legislation and good practice.

Mandatory practice

Sponsors and public bodies must consider the Freedom of Information Act 2000, Environmental Information Regulations and the Data Protection Act 1998.

All executive NDPBs, advisory NDPBs and public corporations must have a ‘code of practice' in place to which board members must adhere.

We strongly recommend that all public bodies consider all other aspects of openness, transparency and accountability.

Openness, transparency and accountability legislation

Executive NDPBs, advisory NDPBs and public corporations should have systems and procedures in place to be able to meet the requirements of the Freedom of Information Act 2000, Environmental Information Regulations and the Data Protection Act 1998.

Sponsors should ensure that any public body that they responsible for is aware of its responsibilities under the various legislation.

All parts of the Defra family should consult each other promptly on requests for information, which may affect each other's interests. You can contact Defra's Access to Information Unit at accesstoinfo@defra.gsi.gov.uk.

Freedom of Information Act 2000

The Freedom of Information Act 2000 now supersedes the Code of Practice on Access to Government Information.

Under the Freedom of Information Act 2000, anybody may request information from a public authority that has functions in England, Wales and / or Northern Ireland. The Act confers two statutory rights on applicants:

  • to be told whether or not the public authority holds that information and, if so,
  • to have that information communicated to them.

All public bodies covered by the Freedom of Information Act 2000 are required to have their own publication scheme.

For further guidance on the Freedom of Information Act 2000, please refer to:

Environmental Information Regulations

Environmental Information Regulations establish an access regime that allows people to request environmental information from public authorities and those bodies carrying out a public function.

For further guidance on the Environmental Information Regulations, please refer to:

More information on the Environmental Information Regulations can be obtained from Defra's Environmental Information Unit. You can contact the unit at environmentalinformationunit@defra.gsi.gov.uk.

Data Protection Act 1998

This Act applies to the processing of information (personal data) about identifiable, living individuals. It applies to personal data contained in manual records (i.e. paper records) and computerised records. It requires all organisations processing personal data to comply with the data protection principles (i.e. the enforceable code of practice on good data handling) set out in Schedule 1 of the Act. Subject to some exemptions, it provides a right for individuals to see their own records (subject access). Any action involving personal data must not be taken without lawful authority.

For further guidance on the Data Protection Act 1998, please refer to:

Code of Practice for Board Members and the ”Nolan” principles

All executive NDPBs, advisory NDPBs and public corporations must have in place a code of practice to which board members must adhere. The code of practice should be publicly available and should set out the conduct expected of board members.

You can find guidance on ‘Codes of Practice for Board Members of Public Bodies’ (PDF), including a model code of practice for board members of advisory NDPBs (see page 30 of model code of practice), on the Cabinet Office Public Appointments Unit website.

Openness and accountability are two of the seven principles presented by the Nolan Committee on Standards in Public Life. We recommend that you include these principles in executive NDPB, advisory NDPB and public corporation ‘Codes of Practice for Board Members of Public Bodies’.

Publishing annual reports and accounts

Executive NDPBs must publish annual reports and accounts. Advisory NDPBs should produce an annual report in a simplified form. However, they should not prepare annual accounts, as their financial information is contained within the resource accounts prepared by Defra.

Openness, transparency and accountability good practice

All public bodies should undertake all reasonable and practical steps to be open and transparent to the public. Executive NDPBs and public corporations should set out their strategies for openness, public involvement and consultation in their corporate plan.

We encourage public bodies to implement the following good practice to improve their openness and transparency to the general public:

  • include lay representation on boards and committees
  • consult with interested parties on a wide range of issues by means of open public meetings
  • invite evidence from members of the public on matters of public concern
  • publish various information on the internet, including:
    • corporate and/or business plans
    • annual reports and accounts
    • meeting agendas and minutes
    • general reports and papers / board papers
    • publication schemes
    • codes of openness
    • examples of other methods of openness and transparency

Useful links

If you require additional information on planning and management issues, and do not have access to the Defra intranet, please  contact the Delivery Relationship Team.

For further guidance on the openness and accountability issues discussed above, please refer to:

Page last modified: 24 June 2009
Page published: 8 May 2006