The body that represents social enterprises in the UK says new Freedom of Information laws should be extended to include private businesses.

In December, the government revealed plans to limit Freedom of Information requests to Whitehall departments and other state agencies, while extending the laws to the more than 165,000 charities in the country.

Peter Holbrook, Chief Executive of Social Enterprise UK, said: “Whether the Freedom of Information Act should be extended to charities is important, but risks overshadowing the bigger issue in this critical debate, which is that private companies are not necessarily going to be covered by the new FOI laws."

The government's argument is that because hundreds of millions of pounds of taxpayer's money goes to charities as a result of Gift Aid, it should be subject to Freedom of Information requests.

Now, Mr Holbrook believes that because hundred of millions of pounds goes to private businesses in the form of government contracts, they too should be subject to Freedom of Information rules.

He said: "Taxpayers spend close to £200 billion every year on goods and services with third party providers, the majority of which goes to private companies. These firms are already difficult to hold to account and often operate with little transparency.

“Extending the Freedom of Information Act to include charities and social enterprises is perfectly reasonable where they receive substantial sums of money from the taxpayers' purse to deliver crucial services. But private companies delivering public services must also be open to the same rules and regulations.

"In the last Parliament, the Government committed to this. A U-turn now would be a grave mistake - multi-billion pound private companies must not be allowed to quietly slip under the radar whilst smaller charities and social enterprises, which reinvest their profits and operate for the greater good are singled out."