Councils should not hide details of their borrowing and investments from the public

“Councils should not hide details of their borrowing and investments from the public” an Information Tribunal has ruled in a decision that will help to shine a light on local authorities’ risky investment practices.

“Responsibility for holding local authorities to account for their borrowing and spending decisions ultimately falls on voters. Voters must be informed to make those decisions.” – Meg Hillier, Chair Public Accounts Committee

Argument that disclosure “would damage the council’s commercial interests” – rejected

This is an another exampled of a Conservative Council trying to hide its “secret deals” behind a screen of “commercial sensitivity”. They have been successfully called out by The Bureau of Investigative Journalism.

Thurrock council must give details of £800m loan

Andrew Ellson, Gareth Davies www.thetimes.co.uk

Councils should not hide details of their borrowing and investments from the public, a tribunal has ruled in a decision that will help to shine a light on local authorities’ risky investment practices.

In a victory for campaigners, a freedom of information tribunal has ordered Thurrock council in Essex to disclose which councils it borrowed £800 million from and what “green energy” deals the money financed.

The council took out loans from more than 150 local authorities and then poured more than £800 million into what it believed to be money-spinning renewable energy ventures. This may have been a breach of guidelines which state councils should not borrow in an attempt to make a profit.

Last year The Times revealed that in one £145 million solar power deal the council paid £5 million of taxpayers’ cash in commission to a globetrotting supercar fan.

The loans and investments were overseen by Sean Clark, the council’s finance director, who was also responsible for dealing with finance requests under the Freedom of Information Act. He rejected an FoI request from the Bureau of Investigative Journalism to reveal which councils Thurrock had borrowed from and what deals that money had financed, arguing that it would damage the council’s commercial interests. His decision was upheld by the information commissioner.

The Bureau pursued the case, supported by The Times, and this week the tribunal rejected the council’s argument, saying there was “significant public interest in transparency”.

Meg Hillier, chairwoman of the Commons public accounts committee, said: “Responsibility for holding local authorities to account for their borrowing and spending decisions ultimately falls on voters. Voters must be informed to make those decisions.”

Owl has found a fuller quote from Meg Hillier:

I applaud the determination of The Bureau for pursuing this and winning a victory for taxpayers.

As the information rights tribunal judge says – responsibility for holding local authorities to account for their borrowing and spending decisions ultimately falls on voters. Voters must be informed to make those decisions. Let the public judge what level of risk they are content to bear with the money they pay in taxes for essential local services.

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