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Press Release 11 Mar - Serious Questions Raised About GCC Transparency

posted 14 Mar 2015, 00:37 by planning users

GLOSVAIN PRESS RELEASE - 11TH MARCH 2015

 
SERIOUS QUESTIONS RAISED ABOUT COUNTY COUNCIL TRANSPARENCY

 

Gloucestershire County Council is delaying and withholding information, in contravention of Government rules and legal precedents, GlosVAIN

claims. County Councillors and the public are still in the dark about nearly all the important details in the £1/2 billion contract for the Javelin Park incinerator in Haresfield, even though this is the largest, most expensive contract that GCC

has ever entered into.

 

GCC has consistently argued that they are withholding the information because of "commercial confidentiality", claiming that the commercial interests of GCC and UBB would be prejudiced and so outweigh the public interest. Evidence now proves that this argument does not hold.

 

Haresfield resident, Cos Ttofa, has submitted a Freedom of Information request for full disclosure of the details of the contract and business case, but on the last day legally allowed for a response, has been told that more time is needed for a ‘public interest test’. He has since submitted a detailed 10-page case, showing that there is no justification for claiming that commercial interests would be prejudiced or outweigh the public interest.

 

He cites the recent Local Government Transparency Code, October 2014, which obliges councils to be transparent, and states "The Government has not seen any evidence that publishing details about contracts entered into by local authorities would prejudice procurement exercises or the interests of commercial organisations, or breach commercial confidentiality."

 

There are many precedents of other incinerator contracts (e.g. East Riding of Yorkshire and Nottingham) for which the Information Commissioner has ruled that the key financial details must be disclosed, specifically "All information relating to pricing contained within the contract other than that highlighting specific costs or profits of the contractor."

 

“If the council continues to refuse to publish the details, they could face hefty legal costs defending the indefensible in the courts” says Mr Ttofa.

 

The case submitted to GCC also argues that there is huge public interest in disclosing the information, which would outweigh any commercial confidentiality considerations that might exist.  At the Council’s Extraordinary Meeting that took place on 18th February, many councillors voting on whether or not to terminate the incinerator contract, complained about the  lack of access to the relevant financial information. The contract termination costs remain undisclosed. A wide variety of figures were cited by GCC’s leaders, ranging from £60m to £150m, but none of these have been substantiated. The full contract, including termination costs, is needed to allow proper scrutiny of the soundness or otherwise of the case for continuing with the incinerator. Lack of transparency is directly affecting the democratic processes in the Council, with potentially enormous financial ramifications

 

“38 Degrees” petition demanding contract disclosure has obtained over 4,500 signatures, showing the genuine weight of public interest and concern about non-disclosure of this information.

 

Sue Oppenheimer, Chair of GlosVAIN said   “Our supporters believe that there has been a conflict of interest in the Council as regards the incinerator project, and that the issue is being handled politically rather than objectively and not in Gloucestershire' best financial interests. People suspect that the council could have something to hide by not revealing the full details. Only by transparency on the full contract can trust and accountability in GCC be restored.”

 

ENDS

 

Notes for Editors

 

  • GCC took virtually the full 20 working days they are allowed before responding to the FOI request with a "refusal notice".
  • GCC stated that the request fell within the remit of the "commercial confidentiality" exemptions in the FOI Act. As such they said they needed more time (up to a further 21 working days to 20 March) to carry out a "Public Interest Test". 
  • The outcome of this is awaited. In the meantime, the requester sent to GCC a powerful and extensive 10 page case for full disclosure of the details contract and business case details.
  • The Public Interest Test will evaluate whether the public interest in releasing the information requested is outweighed or not by commercial confidentiality.
  • This exemption for withholding the full incinerator contract details has been routinely cited previously by GCC.
  • The reasons allowable for withholding the information under the heading of "commercial confidentiality" would have to be that there is either a trade secret that disclosure would reveal, or, that the commercial interests of GCC or UBB would be prejudiced. These would have to outweigh the public interest for releasing the information in order for the information to be withheld.
  • The Information Commissioner’s office is the UK’s independent authority set up to uphold information rights in the public interest, promoting openness by public bodies and data privacy for individuals. https://ico.org.uk/  
  • The detailed case submitted to GCC for full contract disclosure can be found below.
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planning users,
14 Mar 2015, 00:37
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