Sunday, 24 August 2014

Knowle relocation project: FOI request goes to tribunal: Exeter Magistrates Court: Thursday 28th August

The District Council has appealed against the Decision Notice of the Information Commissioner's Office to publish reports on its relocation project. 

The case EA/2013/0072 has gone to Tribunal:
Futures Forum: Knowle relocation project: FOI request goes to tribunal ..... yet further reports
Futures Forum: Knowle relocation project: FOI request goes to tribunal ..... further reports

This is the original Decision Notice from the ICO:

Here is a helpful set of directions to the Tribunal in Exeter for Thursday 28th August, from the East Devon Alliance blog:

28 August 2014
Exeter Magistrates Court, 10 am , Court 3
First Tier Tribunal hearing: EDDC v Information Commissioner
(half day scheduled – Exeter Magistrates Court is close to the Exeter branch of Waitrose and next to the Police Station within walking distance of Exeter city centre)
background information on this important case

Parking and public transport if attending court:

(If going into Exeter by car be aware that currently the road is being dug up just beyond the Magistrates Court, outside Waitrose on the lane outbound from Exeter up to its junction with Barrack Road but inbound road currently clear and exit into Waitrose car park unaffected – best to check.)

1.  Sowton or Honiton Road Park and Ride and Park and Ride bus into Exeter then 8-10 minute walk uphill from City Centre.  Bus passes can be used after 9,30 am
2.  Time-limited parking in Waitrose car park and pay-car park behind Waitrose at Heavitree Hospital.    Both around 2 minutes walk from Magistrates Court – Waitrose has a coffee bar and restaurant for those who arrive early or simply need a break from the proceedings!
3.  Car Parks around Paris Street bus station and Princeshay/Dix’s Field – 8-10 mins walk uphill to Magistrates Court.
4.  X53 has a bus stop almost opposite the Magistrate’s Court – but you would need to catch the bus which leaves Seaton at 07.33 or Sidford at 08.00 arriving Exeter 08.38 to be there in time as the bus after that does not arrive in Exeter until 10.42.
5.  Bus 52A and 52B leave Sidmouth half-hourly into Paris Street Bus Station and you would need to catch the 09.00 52B to arrive in Exeter at 09.52

East Devon Alliance | Bringing together the people of East Devon

The press have taken some interest in the upcoming case:
EDDC v Information Commissioner – press release from J Woodward | East Devon Alliance

There have been several relevant insightful reports from the EDA blog on the issue of transparency:


August 22nd 2014

“The values of any well governed Council include openness and transparency, honesty and integrity, tolerance and respect, and equality and fairness. “In recent years these values have evidently not been applied or followed”.

Sir David believes that this is not the fault of the general body of councillors but that responsibility lies in the hands of the Executive Board and the Chief Executive. “There needs to be a change in culture”.

It is not that the rules are procedures are not adequate, more a case that they are not applied in practice because of “the internal culture in County Hall”.

Basic rules and values concerning conflicts of interest which should be obvious to all have not been applied by some members of the Executive Board and senior management. “They are not mere technicalities as some have suggested”

As for ‘recent events’, he says they “will not happen if there is a proper professional relationship between the Chief Executive, the Executive Board and the Council generally and if the Scrutiny Committees are given the full facts.”

As for the notoriously brief Minutes of meetings, he states that “there is a culture of hiding difficult or troublesome items” and goes on to say, “It is unclear to me whether or not the committee clerks are instructed to adopt this unhelpful approach and if so by whom.”

Relax, councillors this is a comment on the situation at a council in Wales – but today Wales, tomorrow …..

Openness, transparency, conflicts of interest, poor minutes, inadequate scrutiny … | East Devon Alliance


August 7th 2014

Recently we reported on a case where the London Borough of Southwark was forced to disclose contract information in a planning matter. Below is a lawyer’s summary of the points raised by the judgement.

Of great interest is the section where it states clearly that a viability forecast comes under Environmental Information Regulations and not Freedom of Information. This may have implications for the case of EDDC v Information Commissioner where EDDC is refusing to disclose information about Knowle relication. EIR requires far more disclosure than FOI. Note also the remarks about transparency.

The ICO heard the challenge to LB Southwark’s decision to refuse disclosure last year:
It accepted that disclosure of redacted elements of the reports would be commercially harmful. Nonetheless, applying the public interest test under the EIR regime, it decided that the interest in disclosure outweighed the harm. LB Southwark appealed the decision to the First Tier Tribunal, which has now held that:

The viability assessment is “environmental information” under the Environmental Information Regulations 2004.
The EIR regime operates with a presumption of disclosure, unlike the Freedom of Information Act 2000 regime.
Publication of viability forecast data relating to deals to be done with other businesses should not be disclosed, because the commercial harm was not in the public interest, but private sales and registered provider deals should be.
The ICO was wrong to refuse to treat Lend Lease’s development model as a “trade secret” and there was no need to show monetary loss arising from disclosure.
The Council’s suggestion of absolute confidentiality in relation to the activities of its staff was wrong. Likewise, there is not always a public interest in maintaining secrecy around public private partnership negotiations – the law on information disclosure is drawn to ensure transparency where it matters.
Disclosure of the starting point in negotiations (i.e. the initial viability reports) is not the same as the disclosure of the full continuum of those negotiations – the likelihood of a chilling effect on other deals should be viewed in that light. The public interest warranted disclosure of much of the information – given “the importance, in this particular project, of local people having access to information to allow them to participate in the planning process”. That factor was held to outweigh the public interest in maintaining the remaining rights of Lend Lease and those subcontractors who contributed to the document. 

Knowle relocation: interesting case law on disclosure | East Devon Alliance


July 31st 2014

Bradford Council loses its appeal as they tried to stop an employee finding out how posts are graded:

The tribunal said it agreed with the Commissioner and the requester in their analysis of the public interest test, concluding that there was a significant public interest in favour of disclosure of the disputed information.

It seems that the push is for greater transparency …..

Information Tribunal rules on councils keeping employee grade criteria secret: they can’t | East Devon Alliance


July 29th 2014

So why not electors? We shall see on 28 August 2014 at Exeter Magistrates Court perhaps:

A Deputy High Court judge has ordered a local authority to make early specific disclosure to a leisure services provider bringing a claim over a recent £120m concession procurement.

Local Government Lawyer - Council ordered to make specific disclosure in dispute over £120m procurement 

Developers allowed by High Court to see secret contract documents | East Devon Alliance

To conclude: A letter to the Express & Echo from last year:

Council poor at consultation

By Exeter Express and Echo  |  Posted: March 07, 2013

HOW easily words flow from the mouths of certain EDDC councillors, as reported in your Exmouth and East Devon pages.

Council leader Diviani talks of a willingness to partake in "well-informed discussion and debate". May I invite those of your readers who have internet access to look at EDDC's shocking record of dealing with Freedom of Information Act requests as found on WhatDoTheyKnow - Make and browse Freedom of Information (FOI) requests  

Currently the Information Commissioner is investigating eight complaints from me of failure by EDDC in respect of their FOI duties. Already they have been instructed to get on and answer a number, some as old as seven months. The Information Commissioner is also considering placing EDDC on a special watch list, a dubious "honour" reserved for the worst offenders. The evidence is that EDDC is appallingly bad, indeed obstructive when it comes to providing the very information that will enable "well-informed discussion". If it does appear, it has a habit of appearing too late to use in planning or decision-making debates. Cllr Diviani should check his council's record.

Cllr Moulding is also less than forthright in his comments about recent consultations. EDDC have been appallingly bad at determining local opinion across the district. I believe firmly in genuine consultation but think that if it is to be meaningful and accurate, then it must be done properly and overseen by people with a knowledge of research methods and not a committee tasked with delivering the program. I have been trying for months to determine if any of those running EDDC's consultations have relevant research qualifications and, though fobbed off with all manner of rubbish, have yet to be given any evidence that there is any recognised expertise at EDDC.
We need to see an end to sham consultations. Let me give but one example from many of how questionable they have been.

In the masterplan consultation there was a question about whether people wished to see the Elizabeth Hall site improved. There was no simple question asking if the hall should be knocked down. Their question committed the cardinal sin of ambiguity, something that a qualified researcher would have spotted and corrected.

A "yes" to improving the site (which we would all like to have seen improved) is interpreted, by EDDC, as a yes to knocking down the hall. Five hundred and seventy people completed the questionnaire, many of whom wanted the hall kept, 12,000 petitioned to keep Elizabeth Hall (and improve its appearance). Elizabeth Hall has been sold to Premier Inn. That's how it works in EDDC. Don't take my word, look at the website above and attend an EDDC council meeting to see how badly the council is run.

Tim Todd

East Devon Alliance member, Exmouth

Council poor at consultation | Exeter Express and Echo

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