The Freedom of Information Act will make public sector bidding documents open to scrutiny by business rivals.

Construction firms can now access contract details of rivals bidding for public sector projects under a new Act that came into force on January 1. The Freedom of Information Act obliges over 100,000 public authorities to open their files, allowing companies to access rivals’ bid information.

The Act enables firms to access background procurement information, and compliance and performance data that shows how well or badly rivals have performed.

Under the Act public authorities must answer information requests within 20 working days. The Information Commissioner Richard Thomas, who is responsible for enforcing the Act, said that he expects authorities to release contract details unless doing so would genuinely prejudice the commercial interests concerned.

One consequence of the act is the formation of new research consultancies that specialise in gathering competitive information from government departments. is one such consultancy and founding partner John Ashton urged businesses to seize the opportunity that the new regime provides.

He said: “Companies generally use us because they don’t want potential clients to know of their interest. They want the information but don’t want to be seen snooping around the very organisations they are trying to win business from.”