“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.