Saturday, 8 August 2015

Knowle relocation project: and not publishing documents

At the District Council's last Cabinet meeting, much was made about publishing more documentation about its relocation project:
Futures Forum: Transparency at East Devon: District Cabinet to consider report: Wednesday 15th July

However, in its press release a week ago, the Council was not very forthcoming about its plans to publish:
Futures Forum: The Freedom of Information Act and East Devon  >>> challenging the "presumption in favour of releasing information" >>>

Indeed, the Information Tribunal was not very happy about the way in which the District Council has discharged itself:
Futures Forum: Knowle relocation project: '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.'

There are fundamental issues at stake around the handling of information:
Futures Forum: The Freedom of Information Act and East Devon >>> the story continues

This letter appeared in the latest Herald, covering these very issues:

Publish relocation documents now:

EDDC recently put out a press release concerning the conclusion of the Freedom of Information (FoI) tribunal. This was titled ‘Tribunal appeal process now concluded, council to publish remaining documents: final ruling accepts importance of some redaction in the interests of commercial confidentiality’. 

We were concerned about the tone and content of this item for two reasons: Firstly, that there is no timescale for document release, something we have asked for repeatedly. There is no reason why these documents, and more, cannot be published within the next month. 

Secondly, it perpetuates the idea that the main/only reason for fighting to keep these documents secret was ‘commercial confidentiality’. This is also what Cllr Diviani said in the BBC Radio Devon interview (with Cllr Gardner) on June 4. However, I believe this is not true. We have written confirmation from Cllr Diviani that this was not the reason – the reason was ‘principle’. To have these documents classified as internal. We continue to ask why this was necessary. Why the need for so much secrecy on a project of such importance to the district? Why not be honest about the reason? Why fail to supply documents to councillors and make the process so awkward? 

The council has stated it will ‘learn lessons’ from the tribunal findings and work to be more open. We have yet to see any evidence of a change of culture. Committing to a timetable of rapid document release would be a concrete way the council could demonstrate that they are serious about doing this. 

Proactively publishing documents immediately would also be a major step in the right direction. 

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