Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Knowle relocation project: "We will be introducing new steps to improve transparency."

The District Council has lost its appeal in the case with the Information Tribunal over several Knowle relocation reports:
Futures Forum: Knowle relocation project: Breaking news >>> FOI request goes to Tribunal: District Council loses appeal
Futures Forum: Knowle relocation project: Breaking news >>> FOI request goes to Tribunal: District Council loses appeal >>> further reports

The District Council has issued a press release:

Council prepares to release documents that sparked tribunal

6 May 2015

Council prepares to release documents that sparked tribunal

Lessons will be learned from conduct of appeal after chairman’s criticism

East Devon District Council has started making preparations to release documents containing background information about the proposed move of the council’s offices away from Knowle.

This follows a ruling by an appeal tribunal, calling on the council to divulge the information, but recognising the council's case that some sensitive words or passages should be blocked out – or ‘redacted’.

Whilst welcoming the tribunal’s recognition that there was some justification for withholding certain types of information, the council will, as instructed, now move to make public all six documents – with those redactions.

A council spokesman said:

> We respect the tribunal’s decision and will of course abide by their verdict. We are sorry that the tribunal chairman found our conduct of the appeal to be unhelpful.

> It’s quite clear that lessons need to be taken away from this experience. These lessons can and will be learned and steps will be taken at the very earliest opportunity to look at the conduct of our appeal.

> In any form of partnership working, each partner has to respect the commercial sensitivity of certain information. This can be a difficult balancing act and we have to reflect on the fact that in this case we may not have got that balance right. We will therefore be reviewing our approach to protecting confidential information and we will be introducing new steps to improve transparency.

EDDC is currently reviewing all relevant documents with a view to publishing those that the tribunal has called for, plus any others that are no longer commercially sensitive.

6 May 2015 - Council prepares to release documents that sparked tribunal - East Devon

The media has reported widely on the criticism from the Tribunal:

Judge critical of EDDC’s ‘discourteous and unhelpful’ conduct

09:35 06 May 2015

Harvey Gavin

EDDC has voted to move from its Sidmouth HQ to offices in Exmouth and Honiton

A court has taken the ‘unusual and unfortunate’ step of criticising the district council’s conduct during a lengthy legal battle over the release of confidential relocation documents

Yesterday, (Tuesday) a tribunal ruled that East Devon District Council (EDDC) must publish classified reports used by an authority working group that was looking at a move away from its offices at Knowle, Sidmouth.

In the court’s decision, the judge in the case, Brian Kennedy QC, said the process had taken ‘much longer than it should have done’ because of EDDC’s failure ‘to address itself with sufficient attention to the details of what information and documents it was supplying’.

An initial hearing took place in August 2014, but the judge said the council had taken until March 2015 to supply a ‘fully legible copy’ of the disputed information.

He added: “Correspondence on behalf of the council, rather than ensuring the tribunal was assisted in its function, was at times discourteous and unhelpful including the statement that we had the most legible copies possible. A statement, which was clearly inaccurate as subsequently, we have been provided with perfectly legible documents. We believe this appeal could and should have been dealt with completely at the hearing in August 2014 and the decision promulgated six months ago had the council discharged its responsibilities properly.”

Reacting to the news, campaign group Save Our Sidmouth, said: “EDDC has spent over £11,000 of public money in fighting this case, money which could have been spent on much more worthwhile and productive activities.

“Throughout our campaign against the relocation of the Knowle we have continually been battling against EDDC errors, deliberate obfuscations and a refusal to examine rational options. A decision to confirm the relocation was made by the Council in late March 2015, based on what we still believe are very doubtful foundations. We fully endorse the Judge’s conclusions on EDDC’s behaviour not only related to this particular event. We believe that EDDC personnel involved should be considering their positions.”

Before any documents are published, EDDC can choose to apply to appeal the decision of the tribunal.

Judge critical of EDDC’s ‘discourteous and unhelpful’ conduct - News - Midweek Herald
EDDC told to publish relocation documents - News - Midweek Herald

Judge orders "unhelpful" Devon council to release relocation documents

By Western Morning News | Posted: May 06, 2015

Judges have criticised a Devon council for its “discourteous and unhelpful” attitude and ordered it to release withheld documents following a failed appeal.

The comments were aimed at East Devon District Council by members of the information tribunal assessing its case for turning down a request for environmental information.

The appeal concluded with Judge Brian Kennedy upholding the Information Commissioner’s ruling that the local authority had wrongly refused to publish certain documents covered by the request. But justice Kennedy also used his report to rebuke the council for failing to cooperate ad provide relevant information throughout the duration of the case, resulting in it lasting “much longer than it should have done”.

The Environmental Information Regulations request, submitted in 2013 by Sidmouth resident Jeremy Woodward, concerned East Devon’s controversial decision to move its headquarters. Mr Woodward had asked the council to release unredacted minutes and reports relating to its proposed relocation from Knowle in Sidmouth to Honiton in Exeter.

The move, approved by councillors in March 2014, is estimated to save the council £2.8 million over the next 20 years.

Mr Woodward’s request was refused on the grounds that both the minutes and report from consultancy firm Davis Langdon fell under the “internal communications” exception of the regulations. However, this decision was partially overturned in August by the Information Commissioner, who questioned the claim the Davis Langdon report was “internal”.

East Devon subsequently launched an appeal. But on Wednesday an Information Rights tribunal at Exeter Magistrates’s Court confirmed it would uphold the commissioner’s ruling.

The council is now preparing the documents for release.

In his summary of the case, Justice Kennedy said the tribunal was “unanimously” of the view that the reports were external communication. “Accordingly... this appeal is refused,” he wrote. “The tribunal orders disclosure of all information to which the council has applied [the internal communication exception].

But he added that the tribunal was taking “the unusual and unfortunate step of commenting on the conduct of the appeal itself.We are unanimous in our view that this appeal has taken much longer than it should have done and the reason for this seems to be the failure on the part of the public authority.. to address itself with sufficient attention to the details of what information and documents it was supplying,” he wrote. “And correspondence on behalf of the council, rather than ensuring the tribunal was assisted in its function, was at times discourteous and unhelpful.”

An East Devon spokesman said the authority “respected” the verdict. “We are sorry that the tribunal chairman found our conduct of the appeal to be unhelpful,” he said. “It’s quite clear that lessons need to be taken away from this experience. These lessons can and will be learned and steps will be taken at the very earliest opportunity to look at the conduct of our appeal.”

Judge orders "unhelpful" Devon council to release relocation documents | Western Morning News


5th May 2015

SOS may not be alone in thinking so. This press release has just been issued: 
SOS Press Release on Tribunal decision | Save Our Sidmouth

2 thoughts on “Should Council officers shamed by QC’s comments, be considering their position?”

Mark Hawkins says:
6 May 2015 at 6:39am

No, they should not be considering their position. They should be required to stay in place so that a hopefully less deceitful council can put in place disciplinary procedures to deal with every misdemeanor which has not had a satisfactory conclusion over the previous administration at least. Perhaps EDA should put them on notice that this will be pursued. Could be a vote winner. I will be happy to provide all evidence in my possession.

Peter Whitfield says:
6 May 2015 at 7:48am

It is not primarily Council Officers who should suffer following this result. They operate as a sort of Civil Service to action the wishes of the elected councillors – or in this case the unelected Leader of the council and his inner cabinet of fellow Conservatives. But their competence in following these wishes must be questioned.


6th May 2015

Now we have had time to digest the findings of the judge in Information Commissioner and Jeremy Woodward (and many, many thanks are due to Jeremy and his occasional stand-in Richard Thurlow for doggedly pursuing this) there are SO many questions to be asked, some of which current commentators have already suggested. Now, where will the buck stop and who is going to answer questions ?

First and foremost we must be concerned with the damning evidence. In Tower Hamlets, when the Commissioners arrived to take it over, the first thing they did was sequester ALL documents and correspondence though it is believed that some were already missing. Is it possible that some of OUR evidence is vulnerable to deletion and shredding? We hope not but we cannot be sure. However, traces will abound everywhere and sometimes what is missing throws even more light on what is going on.

At best what has occured is incompetence and, at worst, deceit – as a correspondent says – which is it?

The questions people are posing:

1. The different versions of documents and their legibility. The Judge in the case is STILL not sure he has original documents or all documents. He says that for months EDDC said that they could not provide legible copies of documents and yet, at the last moment, some turned up. However, the judge also says that he is not entirely sure they saw ALL the documents they were meant to see – he refers to document 5A when he appears not to have been given document 5, for example.

2. At the hearing Richard Cohen admitted that he did not give an original version of a document to the Overview and Scrutiny Committee but an “amended” one. Where is the original copy of THIS document and would it have changed what that committee decided?

3. Why did EDDC officers and top councillors keep delaying the process. Were they hopeful that this could be kept under wraps until after the election tomorrow. They almost managed it if this was the case.

4. How and why were the decisions to prevaricate made and by whom: was it CEO/Cohen/Diviani or a larger (or smaller) group?

5. How will those in (4) above manage to keep this from the NEXT Overview and Scrutiny Committee?

6. Who decides what goes to an Overview and Scrutiny Committee? Those in (4) above! And will it go to the Standards Committee? (Answer here: almost certainly not if the same people remain in power).

7. What is now the position of Knowle sale?

8. Who takes these decisions – officers and then the councillors are led by the nose, or councillors and then officers are led by the nose or a combination of councillors AND officers and then everyone else is led by the nose? We know from Councillor Peter Sullivan that, as a Conservative councillor, he was not allowed to see documents. Who was in the “golden circle”?

9. Why did NO-ONE blow the whistle when they realised what was happening? Why was it left to brave Independent councillors, bloggers and – most important – local resident Jeremy Woodward, to uncover this very dirty, dirty linen?

One thought on “Bucks, so many bucks, so many questions … such a nasty, nasty smell of dirty linen”

Graham Sidmouth says:
6 May 2015 at 12:02pm

Following the late March 2015 EDDC full council meeting I spoke to the deputy CEO Mr Cohen who assured me there was “no skulduggery going on here.” So why then spend £10000+ on a Barrister to conceal the relevant documents from the councillors and their constituents? Indeed how can the councillors vote to relocate when they and the public are denied access to the true facts and figures?


6th May 2015

The Chief Executive (Williams) and Deputy Chief Executive (Cohen) along with ? who else must have taken the original decision to suppress the reports discussed in secret meetings when they were requested by Mr Woodward,

This decision to suppress the reports, to our knowledge was never brought to any public council committee. Who took the decision to suppress?

Eventually, the Information commissioner said that (redacted) reports should be published.

The ” council” then decided to appeal this decision. Who made that decision and why? Who reviewed it and agreed with it? How many councillors knew what was happening? Who thought up the idea of saying reports could not be published because the consultant was “an embedded employee” of the council?

The Deputy Chief Executive (Cohen) was chosen to present the justification for suppression and appeal at the court case in August 2014. The council’s solicitor (Lennox Gordon) presumably must have been asked for advice (though at the Court case they had engaged an outside barrister to present the case). The Chief Executive and ? who else must have then sanctioned this course of action. It was, to our knowledge, never brought to any public council committee. Who else knew about this?

At the Court case, Deputy Chief Executive Cohen admitted that at least one report from the outside consultant (Pratten) had been changed by him – Cohen – before being given to the Overview and Scrutiny Committee. The Overview and Scrutiny Committee were not aware of this at the time and (as far as we know) still do not know what was changed or why. Who else (if anyone) was involved in the decision to change the document before it went to them? Have members of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee since seen the original? Would it have changed their views if they did not see it and have not since seen it?

Are there more reports (changed, not changed) other than those under review that they and other councillors should have seen prior to making an informed decision about relocation either to Skypark or Honiton/Exmouth and then sale of Knowle that might have affected their decision?

After the Court case in August 2014 it appears that EDDC dragged its heels in providing the judge with documents and insisted that some of them were illegible. However, subsequently, legible copies were found and submitted as late as March 2015. Who insisted that only illegible copies were available? Who knew that there were legible copies available and why were they delayed? Why the long delay?

Now that the court has heavily criticised all those involved, the decision can again be appealed, at probably even greater cost than the last appeal. We do not yet know the full cost of the last appeal except that it is more than £11,000 PLUS officer time, as EDDC never apportions cost of officer time to its work.

So, who takes the decision to appeal the appeal? The same people who suppressed the documents? The person/people who altered at least one document before it went to a committee? The people who said that some documents were illegible when they were not? The people criticised by the court for being “unhelpful and discourteous?

Who is left who has not been involved in this sorry saga who can be trusted to find out the answers and make decisions now? If we return the “same old” how can we be sure this will not be brushed under a carpet so precariously balanced on all that is now underneath it?

Brave independent councillors kept bringing this subject up time and time again only to be told to stop tilting at windmills. What is here is definitely not windmills.

Only a vote for Independents tomorrow can ensure that the carpet is lifted so that we can all see what has been swept underneath it all these years.

Including, of course, some searching questions about the seven year delay to a Local Plan which has left us at the mercy of rapacious developers.

The future is in your hands tomorrow.

2 thoughts on “Who will take the decision whether to appeal the appeal for disclosurof Knowle relocation documents?”

Tim says:
6 May 2015 at 3:58pm

And theirs in different hands the day after!

Peter Phillips says:
6 May 2015 at 4:25pm

Nicely balance view of the transparancy that EDDC is so proud of, (In their dreams). Not sure if this all amounts to smoking mirrors, steamy windows or just a tissue of lies?

So who can hold the Officers responsible for their actions?? I guess it has to be left to public opinion to embarrass them out of office but being so thick skinned it could take a while!!

A vote for an Independent candidate tomorrow must surely help change EDDC’s underhand methods?

Who will take the decision whether to appeal the appeal for disclosurof Knowle relocation documents? | East Devon Watch


6th May 2015

See this exchange between Cllr Susie Bond (Ind) and EDDC Leader Paul Diviani (Con). 

EDW footnote: The Council had agreed to conduct an independent inquiry once the police investigation into ex-Councillor Graham Brown (following the Telegraph’s ‘Councillor for Hire’ sting, March 2013) had ended. Cllr Bond (who took the Feniton and Buckerell seat with 87% of the vote, after Graham Brown’s resignation from it), asks if the Council will conduct its own investigation, as decided.

The Leader’s response (with backup from Chair Graham Godbeer (Con) , heard in the background saying Cllr Bond was not asking a question ) is fairly typical of what has been regularly observed by the public at Council meetings.

A “discourteous” and “unhelpful” Council….Leader sets the tone | East Devon Watch


6th May 2015

… and, as usual, light (featherlight) on facts about HOW they intend to change.
6 May 2015 - Council prepares to release documents that sparked tribunal - East Devon

No, change has to be forced upon them: we cannot trust them to change themselves

EDDC “apology”: too little, too late, too insincere | East Devon Watch


6th May 2015

EDDC’s press release today (see our previous post) speaks of ‘lessons to be learned’ from the Tribunal’s scathing report, though it overlooks the fact that the criticism was “unanimous”, and not solely from the judge. There is no reference to the reportedly “discourteous” manner exhibited by EDDC , though the Council regrets that the Tribunal found it at times “unhelpful”.

To compare this press release with the one posted earlier today from Save Our Sidmouth (which contains the the Tribunal’s devastating comments), go to these links: 
6 May 2015 - Council prepares to release documents that sparked tribunal - East Devon
and SOS Press Release on Tribunal decision | Save Our Sidmouth

3 thoughts on ““Is the Deputy Chief Executive fit for purpose?”, some are now asking”

Tim says:
6 May 2015 at 9:10pm

Many were asking a long time ago!

Not A Developer says:
6 May 2015 at 9:45pm

AND his boss.

Sandra Semple says:
6 May 2015 at 9:52pm

What will it take before these people get the message that they have lived in their ivory towers for far too long? They justified their existence by telling themselves that they were always right and their electorate always wrong. Now a judge has taken what he called the exceptional step of shaming them in public. Will they get the message? Personally, I doubt it – their ivory towers are in cloud cuckoo land. A cosy, well remunerated cloud cuckoo land. Why change that?

“Is the Deputy Chief Executive fit for purpose?”, some are now asking | East Devon Watch

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