Thursday, 23 March 2017

Knowle relocation project >>> the ICO issues a new Decision Notice asking for clarification on the District Council's energy saving 'model'

Back in 2014, the District Council was basing its justification to relocate on the 'fact' that the Knowle buildings were just too expensive to heat - and yet, at the time, these were comprehensively challenged:
Futures Forum: Knowle relocation project: saving energy costs - and challenging the justification to move

An ensuing Freedom of Information request sought further clarity:
"The Future of Knowle" December 2014 and April 2016 - a Freedom of Information request to East Devon District Council - WhatDoTheyKnow

And yesterday, the Information Commissioner issued a Decision Notice, which will be available soon on its website:

Here are the main points:

> The ICO accepted the District Council's reference to an outdated energy report from June 2013: the council confirmed that information about estimated energy costs could be found in the June 2013 Energy Use and Maintenance Cost Report

> The ICO also accepted the District Council referring to the latest figures from the Department of Energy - figures which differ considerably to those used back in 2013/14 to justify relocation: the council provided a link to the current DECC report and also confirmed that information from the report used in calculations could be found in the report produced by Grant Thornton found at item 12 Appendix 2 of the Agenda For Cabinet 11 March 2016

> The District Council was unable to provide: "The background information which it would have used when making a calculation critical to its justification for moving its headquarters from Knowle." because the background papers, including any information about which of the DECC reports were used in the calculation of energy costs would have been held by Davis Langdon. And as an 'external consultant' they did not now have access to this information.

> The Commissioner asked the council to consider the relevant part of the Agenda for Cabinet 11 March 2015 which states "Within the running cost calculations it is worth pointing out that we have taken on board external criticism of the previous energy cost assumptions and factored in DECC future projections of energy prices, In doing this we have consulted the South West Energy and Environment Group (SWEEG)". 
Incredibly, the only information provided was given orally, then backed up by an email. That's all it was: The council stated that neither it nor Grant Thornton held any information that was provided by SWEEG. It explained that the consultation with SWEEG took place on a verbal basis, and that the council officers involved were the senior officers leading the relocation team.

To conclude, the ICO accepts that most of the information requested has either been given (if considerably out of date) or the District Council no longer has access to it (largely due to the extreme lapse of time). However, the ICO has issued a Decision Notice:

Decision (including any steps ordered)
1: The complainant has requested information from East Devon District Council
(the council) in respect of predicted energy costs at Knowle in the context of
the council's office relocation project, and the documents used to reach
those estimates. The council provided some information, but maintained that
it did not hold the remainder. During the course of the Commissioner's
investigation, further information was located within the scope of the request
and some of this was provided.
2: The Commissioner's decision is that the council has failed to comply fully
with this request and in doing so has breached section 1, section 10 and
section 17 of the FOIA.
3: The Commissioner requires the publĂ­c authority to take the following steps to
ensure compliance with the legislation.
o With regard to the request at question B and the follow up request of
17 May 20L6 requesting Grant Thornton's model, the council must
issue a fresh response to the complainant which is compliant with
section 1 and section L7 of the FOIA.

In other words, the District Council must come clean about the 'model' produced by its consultants on energy costs.  

And this 'model' is actually very interesting:

In a further FOI request of 1st February, the following documentation was requested – documentation which the District Council has itself said it holds and which it has had access to:
> The model prepared by Grant Thornton which was reviewed by Members before the vote to postpone the project was made in March 2015.
> [And if this is a different document] “The business case by the Audit and Governance Committee and external auditors Grant Thornton” as referred to in the agenda of the Scrutiny Cttee of 2nd February 2016: 

See also:

And yet the District Council, in its reply to the ICO, makes a lot of fuss about how complicated this 'model' would be to reproduce. 

We shall now have to see how they respond to this latest Decision Notice.

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