“Ministers could have to lay bare their private Whitehall diaries after Freedom of Information win”

Owl says: bet there are a lot of interesting diaries at EDDC!

“Ministers could be forced to reveal details of their ministerial diaries after the Government failed in a bid to block disclosure of a diary kept by former Tory health secretary Andrew Lansley.

The ground-breaking case marks the first time the courts have considered the public right to see entries contained in a ministerial diary under the Freedom of Information Act 2000.

Transparency campaigners say the case is of importance because the diary covers the time Mr Lansley was working on the Health and Social Care Act and allegedly subjected to extensive lobbying by private healthcare interests.

A journalist, Simon Lewis, made a request to the Department of Health under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 to see diary contents for the period May 12 2010 to April 30 2011.

Mr Lansley was health secretary in David Cameron’s Government from 2010 to 2012.

Only a redacted version was produced but in March 2013 the Information Commissioner required the department to disclose the majority of the withheld information.

The Government has now lost a series of legal challenges to the commissioner’s decision, ending in a unanimous three-judge appeal ruling yesterday in favour of disclosure.

It was handed down by Sir Terence Etherton, Master of the Rolls, sitting with Lady Justice Black and Lord Justice Davis.

In the lead ruling, Sir Terence said the FOI Act created a general right of access to information held by public authorities but allowed for exemptions from disclosure.

The Government attacked two earlier tribunal decisions allowing disclosure of the Lansley diary.

Government lawyers argued the tribunals were wrong to find the relevant balancing exercise between disclosure and non-disclosure came down in favour of disclosure.

Sir Alex Allan, a former chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee, had been among Government witnesses who gave evidence that disclosure “would not assist the understanding of the processes of government and would be liable to mislead and misinform the public as to the efficiency and extent of the work of the minister”.

Dismissing the Government appeal, Sir Terence said there were “11 particular types of benefit” from disclosing the information, including “general value of openness” and “transparency in public administration”.

The judge also rejected the Government’s claim that the Department of Health did not hold the diary information “for the purposes” of the FOI Act.

He declared that while Mr Lansley was a minister in the department the diary entries “were held by the department for itself even if they were also held – in the case of personal and constituency matters – for Mr Lansley as well”.

The judge added: “I cannot see that the termination of Mr Lansley’s ministerial position made any difference to that position.

“In particular it seems to me clear that it remained relevant or potentially relevant to the department to know, as a matter of historical record, where Mr Lansley had been and with whom on particular occasions, should there be a political, journalistic or historical interest raised with the department in relation to those matters.”

A Cabinet Office spokesman said: “The Government is considering the decision of the Court of Appeal and will respond in due course.”

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/05/24/ministers-could-have-lay-bare-private-whitehall-diaries-freedom/

EDDC Manstone Depot relocation cost so far: £70,000 – £106,000

Freedom of Information Question:
“Could you provide me with the full and exact costings for this planning application; the building costs of the new offices; and where the finance for this project is coming from

Answer:
Full and exact costings are not yet known. We have a working estimate which indicates that the cost of this element of the project is likely to be between £71,750 and £106,750 but, as we will soon be securing bids for this work, we are not prepared to disclose our budget estimate breakdown as this will seriously weaken our contract negotiating position and our ability to achieve best value for the work needed. We are withholding this information under Reg 12(5)(e) of the Environmental Information Regulations. We believe that the overall budgetary cost being in the public domain allows for the public interest in this matter to be adequately served.

This is an existing costed element of the relocation project and £100,000 is included within the overall re-location budget for this project and was in the budget when considered by the Council back in March 2015.”

http://eastdevon.gov.uk/access-to-information/freedom-of-information/freedom-of-information-published-requests/

EDDC holds up Freedom of Information request on HQ relocation

It seems EDDC is VERY reluctant to answer any FoI requests relating to relocating its HQ:

https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/body/east_devon_district_council

What’s the problem? It can’t be the old chestnut “commercial confidentiality” as the project has not been tendered so there is no outside commercial involvement.

Requests now cover not only Knowle but also the massive cost overrun at Exmouth and the added costs of relocating the Estates Department to Manstone Depot.

From one HQ to an HQ and two satellites. All against a background of massively increasing costs, decreasing availability of skilled labour and no plan for how it will be financed after PegasusLife failed to get its planning permission.

Hundreds of thousands of pounds already spent (excluding officer costs which are never added in), expensive days in court losing to the Information Commissioner.

What is being concealed?

Information Commissioner v Exeter City Council re business case adjourned

This case has direct ramifications for Exmouth regeneration and Knowle relocation.

“… The lengthy hearing, held independently of the government at Exeter Magistrates’ Court from 10am, was attended by members of the public, city councillor’s and members of the council. It continued into the afternoon with closed sessions which discussed the information in question.

The Information Tribunal was adjourned pending further information to an, as yet, unspecified date after the Judge heard in-part from both sides.

The appellant, Exeter City Council, is battling against the Information Commissioner’s decision that it should publish the details for the business case for the £27 million leisure complex development on the site of the current Bus and Coach Station.

Joined Party, Exeter resident Peter Cleasby, had submitted a Freedom of Information Act request for the details last year, so it could be open to wider scrutiny before contracts were signed. The Council refused on grounds of commercial confidentiality, and Mr Cleasby complained about its refusal to the Information Commissioner.

The Commissioner ordered key information in the business case to be made public, but the council appealed against the Commissioner’s decision. Peter Cleasby added: “Wider scrutiny and challenge of the business case assumptions is vital.”

Before the hearing, a city council spokesman said: “The Council will make its case before the Tribunal. It would be inappropriate to comment further ahead of the hearing.” The council say they are unlikely to comment until a decision is made in the coming weeks.

The development of St Sidwell’s Point has been put on hold because the council has not appointed a contractor. An Extraordinary Meeting of the Council, to direct questions about the delay, will be held at Exeter Guildhall at 6pm on Tuesday. March 21 – after being called in by political opposition.”

http://www.devonlive.com/tribunal-over-exeter-st-sidwell-s-point-information-request-adjourned/story-30200639-detail/story.html

Exeter court case with ramifications for EDDC HQ relocation

“Exeter City Council’s appeal against the Information Commissioner’s decision that it should publish details of the business case for the controversial St Sidwell’s Point leisure complex on the current bus station site will be heard by an Information Tribunal.

Exeter resident Peter Cleasby used the Freedom of Information Act to ask the Council to release details of the business case for the development so that the assumptions contained in it – particularly about the running costs – could be open to wider scrutiny before contracts were signed.

The Council refused on grounds of commercial confidentiality, and Mr Cleasby complained about its refusal to the Information Commissioner.

The Commissioner ordered key information in the business case to be made public, but the Council appealed against the Commissioner’s decision.

The matter will now be decided by a judge-led Information Tribunal, in a public hearing at Exeter Magistrates Court on Monday 13 March starting at 10am.

Peter Cleasby said:”Exeter City Council is set to spend £26 million of public money – a sum that may well increase – on the leisure complex. It claims that the complex will make a profit, but only a handful of officers and councillors know what assumptions are made in support of these claims. If the Council get this wrong, the city could be saddled with an expensive liability for years to come, so wider scrutiny and challenge of the business case assumptions is vital.”

A City Council spokesman said: “The Council will make its case before the Tribunal. It would be inappropriate to comment further ahead of the hearing.”

The pool project was recently put on hold because the council had not appointed a contractor, despite having already spent a significant proportion of the £32.5million combined pot for St Sidwell’s Point and the bus station.”

http://www.middevongazette.co.uk/exeter-city-council-taken-to-court-after-refusing-to-release-leisure-complex-details/story-30186062-detail/story.html

Has EDDC’s new Manstone depot satellite office block been included in relocation costs?

The following Freedom of Information request implies that the cost may not have been included, but we shall see, we hope.

Owl wonders why just one set of employees has been left in Sidmouth in brand new offices and why they could not be accommodated on the Honiton site or the Exmouth site. Surely, THREE sets of offices will be MUCH more expensive to run than one HQ? But cost barely seem to concern Tory councillors, who seem to feel there is little need to scrutinise them.

“Laissez les bons temps rouler!”

“Dear Ms Symington,

I would like to make a formal request under the Freedom of Information Act 2000. I am also making this request under the Environmental Impact Regulations 2004 which require disclosure on the part of Local Authorities.

On 22nd December, I corresponded with the Planning Department with regard to the Council’s planning application for offices for its Estates Department at the Manstone Depot in Sidmouth: https://planning.eastdevon.gov.uk/online…

Several of my questions were answered, but not the following:

“The site is now clearly part of the District Council’s relocation project. This application represents the relocation of one of the key departments from the Knowle site – and yet there has been no mention in the Moving and Improving site pages: http://eastdevon.gov.uk/moving-and-impro…
“And I am unable to find any other information about this relocation of the Estates Department elsewhere.”

Could you provide me with any such references to this project (other than the planning application itself), either as documentation or weblinks.

And could you provide me with the full and exact costings for this planning application: the building costs of the new offices and where the finance for this project will be coming from.

On 9th January, the District Council stated the following to the press:

“The transfer of depot activities is an existing costed element of the relocation project and, as such, included within the independent and positive cost modelling of relocation.”
http://www.sidmouthherald.co.uk/news/dis…

Could you provide me with the documentation which shows how the transfer of depot activities is an existing costed element of the relocation project.

And could you indicate exactly where this information is located within the independent and positive cost modelling of relocation.

I would be grateful if you could answer the four stipulated questions above.

Thank you.
I look forward to hearing from you.
Yours faithfully,
Jeremy Woodward
Sidmouth”

https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/costing_the_relocating_of_the_es

Knowle relocation costs: it’s up to us to check as councillors don’t get the information

And this is how we do it (whilst we have a Freedom of information Act):

Dear East Devon District Council,

I would like to make a formal request under the Freedom of Information Act 2000. I am also making this Request under the Environmental Impact Regulations 2004 which require disclosure on the part of Local Authorities.

Please let me have the costs to date of the Knowle relocation project, to include all preliminary pre “moving decision” costs, and subsequent costs of all work associated with the intended reallocation, including those at The Knowle, Manstone, the intended Honiton site and Exmouth Town Hall

I should also like to know the current projected costs of the Exmouth Town Hall move, (including all associated costs such as moving, staff compensation and travel costs and fitting out costs), and for Honiton and costs associated with the “mothballing” of various parts of the Knowle contingent upon the intended relocation of 90 staff to Exmouth.”

https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/costs_to_date_of_knowle_bhonito?nocache=outgoing-618160#outgoing-618160

And if they say they can’t tell us how much it has cost so far …..

Exmouth Visitor Survey

Last year nearly 5000 people in Exmouth voted in favour of further “INDEPENDENT consultation before any further action (including submission of planning applications) was taken on The Queen’s Drive.

While this has been roundly ignored by EDDC. they did at least seek the opinion of visitors. When independent Cllr Megan Armstrong carried out the Seafront Survey with support from SES we found visitors hold similar values around the seafront as residents, and that it was Exmouth’s unique charm that kept them coming back. Alarmingly many said they would no longer visit Exmouth if The Queen’s Drive development went ahead. I would have thought EDDC would be concerned about this yet it is just another piece of evidence that has been ignored.

Here is the EDDC website announcing the visitor survey, note the last paragraph states the results will be reported to ‘the team’ (Coastal Communities) at the end of the year (2016) …”

https://saveexmouthseafront.wordpress.com/2017/01/29/exmouth-visitors-survey-an-update-of-sorts/

Just poor grammar in the Sidmouth Herald? …

In its piece on EDDC being forced to publish the PegasusLife contract for The Knowle, it concludes:

“… Mr Woodward had previously challenged EDDC in 2015 when it refused to comply with Freedom of Information requests, also on its relocation. The eight-month legal battle saw EDDC blasted as ‘discourteous and unhelpful’ and cost taxpayers £11,000 in lawyers’ fees.”

http://www.sidmouthherald.co.uk/news/revealed_how_eddc_reached_7_5m_deal_for_sidmouth_hq_1_4866174

What is not made crystal clear is that it was the JUDGE in the case – the judge in the case, Judge Brian Kennedy QC – who made this remark, not Mr Woodward.

In fact the full sentence read:

“Correspondence on behalf of the council, rather than ensuring the tribunal was assisted in its function, was at times discourteous and unhelpful including the statement that we had the most legible copies possible.”

http://www.exeterexpressandecho.co.uk/judge-tells-east-devon-councillors-classified/story-26559459-detail/story.html

Sloppy, Sidmouth Herald, very, very sloppy.

Save Our Sidmouth press release on PegasusLife contract

PRESS STATEMENT

EA/2016/0279-0280 East Devon District Council v Information Commissioner

It is well over a year since Freedom of Information requests were made to have key EDDC documents published – the contract with developer Pegasus to buy the Knowle site and the agent’s report on the bidding process and sale.

EDDC refused to publish these, even after being told to by the Information Commissioner. But, now that the case has gone to Tribunal, it has decided to release the documents.

But why now?

What is very clear is that the release of the contract and agent’s report is happening only now that Pegasus’ planning application for Knowle has been considered.

As the EDDC press release makes clear: “With the PegasusLife planning application having been refused, it is considered that this sensitivity has now been reduced and that publication of the information is acceptable.”

And this is very much the point.

Not only was the leadership at EDDC keeping this ‘sensitive’ information from the public – it did not want its own Councillors to know what was in the contract and the bidding process. What is particularly alarming is that the leadership at EDDC hid these details from the planning committee (the DMC) before it made its decision over Knowle.

Looking at the details, the documents reveal the following:

> The agent warned that the development might be perceived by the planning committee as ‘over development’. As they said: “If this is the case, then the application may lead to refusal, delay or in the worst case prevent the relocation of the Council’s offices.”

> The agent also said that “Pegasus is not making any allowance for affordable housing or 106 contributions, as they are classing it as C2”. In other words, the plans were always about classifying the development as C2 (a care home) and not C3, which would mean paying for affordable housing.

> Finally, Pegasus were not prepared to offer significant ‘overage’ – meaning that EDDC would not be able to ‘claw back’ any excess profits Pegasus might make.

But what is particularly disturbing is what these documents reveal about how EDDC operates:

> From the outset, Planning Officers challenged the C2 designation and the scale of development and clearly wanted to give the site C3 status – but later they changed their mind and recommended approval of the Pegasus plans.

> In which case, the DMC have been totally vindicated in their decision to reject the planning application. But we only know this now that the contract and bidding process have been revealed.

> Had the Full Council been aware of the terms of the deal with Pegasus – for example, no significant overage – then then their approval of Pegasus as the ‘preferred developer’ might not have been forthcoming.

> The Information Commissioner insisted that EDDC reveal the contract and negotiations to the public. But what is particularly reprehensible is that the leadership at EDDC refused to reveal these crucial details to their own Councillors.

We now have to ask how the Council will respond – in particular, whether they will want some answers as to how the whole process was mismanaged.

And we have to ask why once again the leadership at EDDC continue to be so secretive in their dealings over the Knowle relocation project – and whether they are going to act on their promise to be truly open and transparent – with both the public and their own Councillors.”

http://futuresforumvgs.blogspot.co.uk/2017/01/knowle-relocation-project-full-pegasus_26.html

Scotland plans to stop council CEOs from getting extra money as Electoral Officers

At present, council CEOs all receive extra payments for this task and are not subject to Freedom of Information laws about how they spend their money on it.

“Senior council executives in Scotland should lose their system of multi-thousand pound payments for acting as returning officers at elections and referendums, according to MSPs.

A report from the Scottish Parliament’s local government committee found that the payments regime for overseeing the conduct and counting of elections, a role usually taken on by council chief executives, was insufficiently transparent, inconsistent, and little understood by the general public.

Bob Doris, the committee convener, said: “We believe that all costs associated with elections should be processed around the principles of openness and transparency if the public are to have confidence in how our elections are run.

“There is a lack of transparency around the value of these payments and how they are allocated,” Doris said.

“We heard that payments can range from £2,500 in Orkney and Shetland to over £16,000 in Edinburgh and may reportedly be worth as much £1m in total.” …”
http://www.publicfinance.co.uk/news/2017/01/scrap-special-payments-scots-returning-officers-say-msps

“Knowle relocation project: full Pegasus contract published”

Some VERY VERY interesting information!

It seems that PegasusLife had no plans to pay any Section 106 contributions, or Community Infrastructure Levy.

The PegasusLife contract that would have been signed had the DMC not refused planning permission and the Savill’s report on how the company got it is detailed in full here:

http://futuresforumvgs.blogspot.co.uk/2017/01/knowle-relocation-project-full-pegasus.html

Where further revelations are promised.

Sidmouth – indeed the whole district – should thank Jeremy Woodward, who worked tirelessly to get this information.

The Information Commissioner had to threaten EDDC with the possibility of being in contempt of court when they issued their Decision Notice forcing publication, after an appeal from EDDC that they should not be made to issue it or at least not without without so much redaction it would likely be pointless. EDDC had been planning to appeal the Information Commissioner’s Decision Notice but suddenly withdrew this action – presumably knowing it would not succeed.

EDDC then issued a press release saying that all the hours and hours they must have spent opposing publication “cost nothing” as it was only officer time.

Owl wonders which senior officers work for nothing!

This sorry tale should be examined by EDDC’s Scrutiny Committee forthwith.

EDDC forced to publish documents on Knowle relocation – again

Owl loves the EDDC description: “there were no costs to the taxpayer because they were all ‘internal’. Everything that happens at Knowle obviously costs us absolutely nothing!

East Devon Council is to publish previously confidential documents relating to the sale of its HQ.

The action follows the authority’s decision to drop its appeal against a ruling by the Information Commissioner which ordered it to release the documents.

The information relates to the bidding process for the council site at Knowle, Sidmouth, and its contract with the buyer Pegasus Life.

The appeal followed requests for the information from Jeremy Woodward of the Save Our Sidmouth campaign group.

The council is planning to move its HQ from Sidmouth to sites in Honiton and Exmouth.

In December last year East Devon councillors rejected plans from Pegasus Life for 113 apartments for older people at the Knowle site.

The move has been opposed by Sidmouth town council and residents’ group who want to protect the land from development.

The commissioner criticised the council in 2015 over the way it had handled a Freedom of Information request from Mr Woodward made in 2013, relating to the proposed £7.5m sale. The council refused, Mr Woodward appealed, and the commissioner ordered the documents to be released.

The council said in a statement in November last year it lodged appeals for a second time against the Information Commissioner’s order to release information about the sale process because of the sensitivity of the information at that time.

It said: “With the PegasusLife planning application having been refused, it is considered that this sensitivity has now been reduced and that publication of the information is acceptable.

“In addition, the ICO, through the appeal process, has clarified that the council was right to question the way the decision was made and, as such, the council has now obtained much needed clarity on the position relating to the confidentiality of tendering processes, not just for Knowle, but for all its commercial activities.”

The council added paperwork relating to the sale up to September 2016 would be available on the relocation section of its website soon.

It said there had been no cost to East Devon taxpayers from the appeal process.

The statement said: “The council would like to reaffirm its commitment to publishing information relating to the relocation project as and when it is appropriate to do so. The next tranche of paperwork, which covers up to September 2016, should be available online very shortly.”

http://www.exeterexpressandecho.co.uk/east-devon-council-to-release-previously-confidential-documents-about-sidmouth-hq-sale/story-30079396-detail/story.html

Thoughts on Exmouth regeneration …

The recent report in The Exeter Express and Echo (13 January 2016) on the treatment by EDDC of one its tenants, Chris Wright whose family run Exmouth Fun Park, raises serious concerns about the veracity of the Council’s version of events, as well as its competence.

Alison Hayward, EDDC’s Regeneration and Economy Manager sent a document to all councillors on 25 April 2016 which gave the clear impression that Mr Wright had refused to accept a generous offer to extend his family’s lease as part of the EDDC’s Queen’s Drive Regeneration. She says his refusal provoked an expensive legal process which caused delays and threatened to “blight the seafront”.

This version was later repeated by Cllr Phil Twiss in an email to councillors in which he added that Mr Wright had also failed to reach an agreement with Moirai Capital Investments, the council’s “preferred developer” for the regeneration of the seafront.

But, as the Express and Echo reports, it seems from EDDC’s answers to a Freedom of Information request, that Mr Wright did NOT refuse the council’s offer, but that the council withdrew it unilaterally while negotiations were still continuing.

This is serious because it suggests allegations that Mr Wright, by his obduracy, involved the council in expense and delay are inaccurate and damaging to his reputation. They could verge on the defamatory.

The reference by Cllr Twiss to Mr Wright’s failure to do a deal with Moirai raises another question. Did the Council, Ms Hayward in particular, perform due diligence on this company before signing an agreement with it?

Many observers warned that Moirai was unsuitable, a verdict the Council finally seems to have accepted in July last year when it ended its relationship, plunging the whole Queen’s Drive project into confusion.

The decision may have been made – in whole or in part – following a detailed analysis of the company’s record drawn up by members of the public and sent to Mark Williams CEO of EDDC. It was the sort of in-depth investigation which the council appears not to have bothered to conduct since the information could be obtained – with a little research – in the public domain.

In all, a not very flattering picture of a council appearing to traduce a tenant for not agreeing quickly enough to an offer which he thought he was still negotiating and appearing to criticise him for not cooperating with a “preferred developer” whose suitability was in doubt.

“Tribunal tells district to publish report into conduct of former parish council chair”

Floodgates opened … ? As it, presumably, also applies to former district councillors too, there may be some sleepless nights here for some of them!

A tribunal has ordered North Norfolk District Council to publish a draft report into the conduct of the former chair of a parish council.

The district had argued that disclosure of the report would have been unfair as it related to the chair’s personal data.

A dispute among residents had broken out in the parish of Hickling in 2014 over whether the Hickling Playing Field or Recreational Ground Charity needed to change its constitution to increase the degree of protection from development given to a historic barn.

‘C’, then chair of Hickling Parish Council, was quoted in a local newspaper as saying the charity had shown no desire to negotiate a new constitution and “they don’t want to make changes to the constitution to protect the village asset and it’s very sad”.

A resident then complained to North Norfolk’s monitoring officer that C had made factually inaccurate comments and deliberately misled readers, amounting to a breach or breaches of the Councillors’ Code of Conduct.

North Norfolk’s monitoring officer appointed an external solicitor to investigate the complaint. She submitted a draft final report for North Norfolk’s standards committee after C had ceased to be a councillor, the chair having lost her seat in the election of May 2015.

The monitoring officer decided that there was “no public benefit” in taking the matter further because C was no longer a serving councillor.

When another resident requested a copy of the draft report, North Norfolk refused – relying on s. 40(2) FOIA – on the grounds that the draft contained personal data about C who no longer held a public position.

The dispute then reached the Information Commissioner’s Office, which accepted C would have had a legitimate expectation that the details of the investigation would remain confidential, North Norfolk’s policy was that draft standards investigation reports were not shared with persons who were not parties to the complaint, and the prejudice to C’s interests outweighed any legitimate public interest in disclosure.

The complainant then appealed to the Information Rights Tribunal, which said in Janet Dedman v IC EA/2016/0142 that there was no doubt that the report contained the personal data of C and that there was no practical possibility of editing it so as to avoid the disclosure of such data.

However, the tribunal added: “There is plainly a strong public interest in the disclosure of findings as to the conduct of the chair of a parish council when performing her public duties.

“That is especially the case where a complaint has been made that she misled a newspaper and its readers, including her local parishioners, as to important matters relating to a controversial local issue. There is a danger that the withholding of a report may encourage the suspicion that its findings are adverse to the subject, whether or not that is, in fact, the case.”

It was hard to see how or in what substantial respects, the report’s findings of fact or its final conclusions could properly have been altered by the standards committee, had it been submitted to them, the tribunal said.

The tribunal said the Information Commissioner’s decision notice had treated a draft report, ipso facto, as a quite different creature from a final report without apparent consideration of the practical differences that might have existed in this case.

“Of course, if the draft awaited further assessment by a fact finder or a senior solicitor, the difference might be substantial. Here, we assess that it would have been minimal. Given that there never will be a final report that is a significant finding.”

It meanwhile suggested that the public interest in disclosure was “affected minimally, if at all,” by C losing her seat.

The public is entitled to know whether a serious complaint as to the conduct of an elected representative was found to be justified, regardless of her status when the report is disclosed,” the tribunal said.

“Such transparency is essential to the maintenance of proper standards in public life, whether or not the subject of the complaint remains in office.”
It pointed out that were this not so “a delinquent public officer, faced with a draft report containing serious criticism of his/her conduct, could simply prevent disclosure by timely resignation”.

The tribunal said there was a realistic possibility that C would again seek election to the parish council or another public authority in the future.

“That being so, the electorate should be apprised of the findings of the draft report, whether favourable or adverse to C. In seeking election in the future, she should neither be prejudiced by unjustified suspicions as to her past conduct nor, as the case may be, protected from disclosure of a past breach or breaches of the Code of Conduct.”

The tribunal found that the public, especially the local community, had a powerful legitimate interest in disclosure of the requested information and that C could have no reasonable expectation that it would not be disclosed in the circumstances that arose.

“That it was a draft report and marked “confidential” when received was no obstacle to disclosure nor was the fact that C was no longer in office. For the purposes of Condition 6(1) of DPA Schedule 2, Mrs. Dedman had a legitimate interest in knowing the findings of the draft report which could only be satisfied by its disclosure,” the tribunal said.

“For the reasons already discussed, disclosure was not unwarranted by reason of prejudice to C’s rights, freedoms or legitimate interests. If there was such prejudice, it was clearly justified in this case, given the public role undertaken by C and what she might reasonably expect as to publicity for the findings of such a report.”

The tribunal concluded that accordingly disclosure was not unfair and North Norfok was not entitled to rely on the s.40(2) exemption.

North Norfolk had no comment on the ruling.

http://localgovernmentlawyer.co.uk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=29706%3Atribunal-tells-district-to-publish-report-into-conduct-of-former-parish-council-chair&catid=59&Itemid=27

“Creative group” or “group of creatives” – what’s the difference!

Recall that Councillor Skinner has said that he has never met “The Ecmouth Creative Group”, then read this Freedom of Information response:

“Thank you for your request for information. Please find the response to your query below.

What criteria does the Exmouth Regeneration Board (ERB) use when selecting potential community groups to communicate with?
The ERB does not formally communicate with community groups and does not therefore apply any specific criteria. The notes of ERB meetings are published and the various members of the ERB including both District and Town Councils communicate with a wide range of Exmouth community groups as required.

[BUT THIS IS CONTRADICTED FURTHER IN THIS RESPONSE!]

Why was the Exmouth Creative Group assigned a brief to design a vision for Exmouth?
Cllr Skinner met in December with some Exmouth local businesses in his capacity as Chair of the Exmouth Regeneration Board and Portfolio Holder for Economy. It was an informal meeting to talk about Exmouth matters and to share views with a group of local businesses who would describe themselves as ‘creative’.

When was the decision made to as the Exmouth Creative Group to design a vision for Exmouth, who was involved in making this decision and whose idea was it in the first instance?
This decision was not taken by the ERB or by any representative of EDDC and no information is held in relation to this question.

How did EDDC and the Exmouth Regeneration Board in particular approach the Exmouth Community Group and who did this?
As above, Cllr Skinner met with some local businesses.

Given that the Exmouth Creative Group is unknown within Exmouth, please explain why the many well known community groups have been overlooked in favour of the Exmouth Creative Group for this task?
The Council engages with all manner of local groups in Exmouth and elsewhere in a variety of ways.

Please provide the names of those in attendance and dates of any meetings between any officers or councillors of EDDC with the Exmouth Creative Group or any representative of the Exmouth Creative Group.
The meeting was an informal one and the Council does not have an attendance list.

I hope this information is helpful but if you feel dissatisfied with the way we have responded, please contact our Monitoring Officer, Henry Gordon Lennox, to request an internal review at [email address]

You may also approach the Information Commissioner for advice at http://www.ico.org.uk”

https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/east_devon_district_council_and?nocache=incoming-922717#incoming-922717

Has EDDC been spying on us? They won’t say

“Local councils, including Exeter and Mid Devon, have been authorised to conduct covert surveillance, a freedom of information request has revealed.

The request, sent to all local authorities in the country by the Liberal Democrats, found two-thirds of those that responded had used powers under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (Ripa) to gather evidence.

Designed to fight terrorism and serious crime, Ripa is not supposed to be used for trivial purposes and should only be utilised if criminal activity was suspected. …

… East Devon District Council was one of those that did not respond.”

http://m.exeterexpressandecho.co.uk/devon-s-councils-are-using-terrorism-powers-to-spy-on-you/story-30013983-detail/story.html

Remember Diviani telling us his Tory council would be “clean, green and seen”? Seems it remains pale, male, stale – and secretive.

Life to get harder for (some) EDDC officers and (some) councillors?

“Every worker employed in public office will have to swear an oath of allegiance to British values under plans to defeat extremism.

Communities Secretary Sajid Javid said it was impossible for people to play a ‘positive role’ in public life unless they accepted basic values like democracy, equality and freedom of speech. …”

…Mr Javid’s loyalty pledge would be expected to cover elected officials, civil servants, and council workers. …

…The oath could include phrases such as ‘tolerating the views of others even if you disagree with them’, as well as ‘believing in freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom from abuse … a belief in equality, democracy, and the democratic process’ and ‘respect for the law, even if you think the law is an ass’.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4045902/Everyone-employed-public-office-swear-oath-allegiance-British-values-plans-fight-extremism.html

EDDC lack of transparency challenged – again

“EDDC’s transparency challenged over relocation from Sidmouth

06:30 05 December 2016 Stephen Sumner
Jeremy Woodward (front right) with campaigners from Save Our Sidmouth at Knowle in 2014
Jeremy Woodward (front right) with campaigners from Save Our Sidmouth at Knowle in 2014
A transparency campaigner is questioning what district chiefs are ‘so desperate to hide’ after they refused to release correspondence on how a developer for Knowle was selected.

Jeremy Woodward’s Freedom of Information (FoI) requests to East Devon District Council (EDDC) about the decision to sell the site of its headquarters to PegasusLife, and the deal between them, were denied.

He appealed to the Information Commissioner to force the disclosure of two key documents – but the authority again refused as it argues the papers are commercially sensitive. The matter will now go to a tribunal.

Mr Woodward said: “What are they so desperate to hide? Why is the council so determined to avoid being held properly accountable, let alone transparent to its rate-paying electorate?”

The tribunal will not be resolved before PegasusLife’s planning application for a 113-apartment retirement community comes before EDDC’s development management committee (DMC) on Tuesday (December 6).

Mr Woodward added: “This timing seriously puts into question the extent to which the DMC’s decision-making is being compromised. Any information touching on the planning application should be made available to DMC members – and the developer’s contract clearly refers to the planning application.”

He said EDDC would rather incur ‘further embarrassment and potential damage’ to its reputation, as this is the second time it has appealed against a ruling from the Information Commissioner.

Last year, the authority refused to release progress reports Mr Woodward submitted FoI requests for on its relocation project. The eight-month legal battle saw EDDC blasted as ‘discourteous and unhelpful’ and cost taxpayers £11,000 in lawyers’ fees.

After Mr Woodward’s latest challenge, EDDC complied with one of three rulings from the Information Commissioner and revealed that PegasusLife will pay £7,505,000 for the site, subject to planning permission.

A spokesman said EDDC is challenging the ruling on the other two documents on legal and procedural grounds as it believes the Information Commissioner has not applied her own guidance consistently or correctly. It argues that the documents are commercially sensitive – but the spokesman said it has always promised to publish them when this is no longer the case.

The spokesman noted the concerns about the DMC meeting but said contractual terms agreed between two parties is ‘legally an immaterial consideration’ to any planning decision.”

http://www.sidmouthherald.co.uk/news/eddc_s_transparency_challenged_over_relocation_from_sidmouth_1_4801011