Saturday, 11 October 2014

Knowle relocation project: latest news on the FOI tribunal

Questions are emerging about the viability of the District Council's proposed move to Skypark:
Knowle relocation: the sums are not adding up | East Devon Alliance
Knowle relocation to Skypark increasingly unrealistic | Save Our Sidmouth
Futures Forum: Knowle relocation project: report to be considered by Council's Scrutiny Cttee: Thursday 16th October

Meanwhile, the Freedom of Information case rumbles on:
Futures Forum: Knowle relocation project: latest news on ...... FOI request goes to tribunal ... and ... Knowle on the market

The latest news on this is that:
> The parties have been given until 21st November to hand in their final submissions.
> The Tribunal's panel will then meet to deliberate and will publish their final decision in the following weeks.

Further information can be found under the 'Information Rights' section at:
General Regulatory Chamber

In the meantime, a fair amount of information is now available in the public domain - at the WhatDoTheyKnow website which passes on FOI requests:

Clarification of the public consultation that took place about the Knowle relocation project
3 September 2014

Comment: 25 September >

The FoI Act does NOT allow EDDC to restrict the information to that already published if there is more information available (provided of course that the additional information is not confidential).
The overall implication in the answer provided by EDDC here is that they consider all information that is not already public to be confidential - whereas the law requires them to treat each piece of information individually and to justify why each piece is being deemed confidential.
This is IMO prima facie evidence of secrecy and should be used as evidence to the First Tier Tribunal.

Comment: 29 September >                    

The full list of questions and responses to the District Council's 'communication events' on their proposal to move from Knowle back in July 2012 is here: 
Vision Group for Sidmouth - EDDC - Moving and Improving - Communication Events - July 2012

Response to EDDC from person making FOI request: 29 September >

Q8. The question was "Please give examples of feedback from the public that has resulted in significant change, thus demonstrating that the 'consultation' was effective." You have provided none. If any such feedback exists please provide examples. 
Alternatively, confirm that the whole process was, (as Cllr Moulding recently said of NHS bed closures) “The consultation seemed to be a reporting mechanism for decisions already made – in other words a done deal.”

Clarification of the public consultation that took place about The Knowle relocation project - a Freedom of Information request to East Devon District Council - WhatDoTheyKnow

Assistance in understanding the employment status of a consultant to EDDC
1 September 2014 >

At the First Tier Tribunal hearing at Exeter, (Information Commissioner v EDDC) on 28th August 2014, Richard Cohen of EDDC asserted, as we understood it, that a consultant employed by Davis Langdon, Steve Pratten, on an EDDC awarded contract, was 'embedded' in East Devon District Council.
I make this request for further detail of the status of Mr Pratten in order to fully understand why and how Mr Pratten is afforded such special status amongst the many consultants employed, indirectly or otherwise, by EDDC. Some of the scenarios suggested are, like those put by the ICO counsel at the hearing, hypothetical but purely intended as a means to clarify and understand the
arrangements, and are not comments on Mr Pratten's ability or conduct which is not questioned.

Response from EDDC: 29 September >

Mr Pratten is not employed by the Council. He is employed by Aecom (formerly Davis Langdon). Your questions about payments of national insurance and tax deductions are therefore not applicable to information held by the Council. Where no recorded information is held, the questions do not fall within the scope of a request under the Freedom of Information Act.
In terms of the re-location project, Mr Pratten reports to Richard Cohen.

Response to EDDC from person making FOI request: 29 September >

I note that you advise that Mr Pratten is not employed by the council and that the usual matters relating to employer/employee do not therefore apply. Nevertheless, I would ask for formal answers to my numbered questions. Please see below.
In regard to the questions about Mr Pratten's alleged special status as an 'embedded' employee, I note that you have not given reasons permitted under the FOI Act or EI Regs for refusing to provide answers. My request was under the FOI and EIR and must be dealt with as such and not as something which the council may wish to deal with in some other way.
I would assert that you must either provide grounds for refusal, quoting the appropriate authority, or answer the questions that remain unanswered.

Assistance in understanding the employment status of a consultant to EDDC - a Freedom of Information request to East Devon District Council - WhatDoTheyKnow

David Langdon consultant's CV
29 August 2014 >

Can you please provide me with a copy of the CV and any other statements of expertise for the consultant proposed by David Langdon consultancy in their tender for the role of Project Manager for the Knowle Relocation project.

Response from EDDC: 23 September >             

You have requested a copy of an individual's CV which constitutes personal data and is exempt from disclosure under s40(2) of the Freedom of Information Act.

David Langdon consultant's CV - a Freedom of Information request to East Devon District Council - WhatDoTheyKnow

Knowle relocation
20 April 2014 >

I would like you to provide me with the following:
> The full, unredacted Minutes of the various relocation working parties and groups, including the: ‘Office Relocation Working Party’, ‘Member Office Accommodation Working Party’, ‘New Office Project Executive Group’, ‘Leader’s Think Tank on Relocation’, ‘Office Accommodation Executive Group’

EDDC cannot claim that it should withhold this information on the premise that matters are still ‘open’. It is absolutely clear that definitive steps have now been taken by EDDC to reach a formal decision to relocate: 

Response from EDDC: 8 May >

You have asked for copies of the minutes of meetings from groups connected with the office re-location project. I refer you to a recent decision notice published on the Information Commissioner's website which outlines the Council's response on this matter - a position which was upheld by the ICO. No formal decision has yet been made in connection with this live project.
In terms of the progress reports, this matter is currently the subject of an appeal to the First Tier Tribunal (Information Rights). No information will be disclosed until the outcome of this appeal is known.

Response to EDDC from person making FOI request: 29 June >

I am writing to request an internal review of East Devon District Council's handling of my FOI request 'Knowle relocation'.
It is clear from the fact that EDDC has decided to move to Skypark; that decisions have been taken based on perceived costs of the move.

Response from EDDC: 16 September >

I can confirm to you that our position remains the same, such that the re-location project is still live and the appeal to the First Tier Tribunal is still under consideration. I am unable to add anything further to our previous response until such time as the Tribunal reaches its decision in terms of the disclosure of these reports.

See also:
East Devon District Council - view and make Freedom of Information requests - WhatDoTheyKno

In other words, a main issue appears to be transparency, as pointed out by the EDA blog:

October 3, 2014 >


Here are a few things that MUST be declared. There is a handy chart at the end of the document of required and suggested disclosure...

Details of the new council transparency rules | East Devon Alliance

October 3, 2014

According to the Department, the Code will require councils to publish details of contracts and all land and building assets “they are sitting on” as well as subsidies given to trade unions including so-called ‘facility time’.

Local Government Minister Kris Hopkins said: “Greater power for local government must go hand in hand with greater local transparency and local accountability. Therefore it is only right we give council tax payers the data they deserve to play a bigger role in local democracy.

Source: Local Government Lawyer - Revised transparency code for local government in England in force next month

Knowle relocation and the new transparency rules – trouble ahead? | East Devon Alliance

October 6, 2014

The Government has just published an FAQ on the new transparency rules that come into effect om 7 November 2014. One or two of the questions and answers perhaps need to be highlighted to EDDC – particularly questions and answers 47, 66 and 81 below:

Q 47: How can my authority publish details of contracts given they are commercially sensitive?

> Where local authorities are disclosing information, they must ensure that they comply with all existing legislation. However, the Government has not yet seen any evidence that publishing the details specified in the Code about contracts entered into by local authorities, breaches any obligations to maintain commercial confidentiality. Local authorities should make potential contractors aware that details of any contract will be made public under the Code to avoid any problems.

Q 66: Is there a minimum size of site or asset for which information should be published?

> No, there is no de minimis for the size of site or asset on which information should be published. Small tracks of land can be high value assets because, for example, they provide access to larger developable land.

Q 81: Should contractors employed by the local authority be included in organisation charts, published senior salary details etc?

> The Code does not prescribe whether contractors’ should be included. Authorities must ensure that the information they publish gives local taxpayers a clear and accurate picture of the way their workforce is organised and how public money is spent on senior pay and reward. Within that context, it is for each authority to strongly consider whether to include contractors.

Source: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/360713/Local_Government_Transparency_Code_2014__-_FAQ.pdf

EDDC and transparency: the government sets its cats against EDDC pigeons! | East Devon Alliance

And there has been some very knowledgeable comment on the blog of Cllr Claire Wright:

Decision on EDDC office relocation likely to take place a few days before Christmas

Monday, 01 September 2014 3 Comments by Claire

A decision on selling the Knowle and at what price, as well as a formal decision on buying land at Skypark, is set to be made at December’s full council meeting, after the matter has been brought before the conservative cabinet, possibly in the same month.

The December full council meeting is scheduled to be held on Wednesday 17 December, just a few days before Christmas.

I don’t think it is fair that such a major decision is being made so close to Christmas, when officers, councillors and residents will be distracted by preparations. I have asked whether consideration can be given to delaying the meeting to early January, when everyone is more able to focus on the task in hand.

Comments >

1. At 01:00 pm on 01th Sep Sandra Semple wrote:

The entire cohort of Tories (with the exception of one or maybe two from Sidmouth/Sidford) will vote like sheep whatever the month.

2. At 03:56 pm on 03th Sep Damien Mills wrote:

In the context of discussions about the future of the Knowle, the following links may be of interest:
http://commercialsearch.savills.co.uk/content/assets/3604/Knowle v14.pdf

While I haven’t yet had an opportunity to study the detail, I was immediately struck by something I read on Page 9 of the brochure, ie the second of the two links:

‘Method of Sale: We are offering the Knowle for sale by informal tender. The District Council is seeking to maximise the sale price from the disposal of the site and will consider conditional offers [conditional on securing planning permission].’

If conditional offers will be considered on the basis of securing planning permission, how, exactly, does that play out when the planning committee comes to consider any such application? Logic dictates the more houses planning permission can be obtained for the more a developer will be willing to pay and with the ruling elite intent on delivering this move ‘at no cost to the taxpayer’, [senior] officers and councillors will have a vested interest in seeing that permission is granted for as many houses as possible.

What is more, am I alone in thinking the timing of all this is ‘interesting’. If, as we are led to believe, the decision to be taken on December 17 is dependent on raising sufficient funds to finance the move then how can it be taken before planning permission for the Knowle has been obtained and, therefore, before the council can be certain of the funds the sale is going to raise?

Decision on EDDC office relocation likely to take place a few days before Christmas - Claire Wright

Knowle goes on sale as arguments unfold at secrecy hearing

Thursday, 28 August 2014 18 Comments by Claire

With interesting timing EDDC puts the Knowle up for sale, as it defends the indefensible at its office relocation secrecy tribunal at Exeter Magistrates Court, today.

See Express & Echo article here -
Home of East Devon District Council in Sidmouth put up for sale | Exeter Express and Echo The prime Knowle site in Sidmouth, home of East Devon District Council, has come on the market.

Knowle goes on sale as arguments unfold at secrecy hearing - Claire Wright

Revealed at secrecy trial: EDDC overview and scrutiny cttee was given edited report on office move

Thursday, 28 August 2014 15 Comments by Claire

EDDC’s overview and scrutiny committee was given an edited report to examine on the state of the Knowle buildings, it emerged at today’s Information Commissioner ICO) appeal tribunal...

Comments >

13. At 10:57 pm on 29th Aug Tim Todd wrote:

Documents showing that EDDC pays AECOM/DAVIS LANGDON , for the services of Pratten, have been seen under the rights of the public to see their accounts at certain times. They show numerous payments of around £10500 each month.
The contract spec, the FFF , so frequently referred to, contains much detail about all elements of the contract, the project, the qualifications of the person supplied as project manager etc. Nowhere does it suggest any special employment relationship will exist between Pratten and EDDC. Why is such detail missing if that was to be the unique case claimed by Cohen?

14. At 12:32 pm on 02th Sep Tim wrote:

Damien, picking up on your comments about the DL document , if S Pratten was using his Bristol office for checking typos then somebody deserves a refund. Look more closely and it is full of typos and other errors, see 2.2, 2.3 and I think it was 2.6 and 2.7 for starters. It suggests that nobody even ran it through a spell-check

15. At 01:20 pm on 02th Sep Paul wrote:

Heck. What do you expect for only c. £500 per day? Someone who can spell? Someone who knows how to turn on the spell checker in Microsoft Office?

Knowle goes on sale as arguments unfold at secrecy hearing - Claire Wright

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