Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Freedom of Information and HDC

I've been pursing HDC over a secret report over the Outdoor Swimming Pool land which the trust deed said HDC was entitled to half the proceeds. Eventually this has been mainly successful. Not without a few refusals along the way.

The initial request was just blocked. The HDC reply to my request is below:

3rd December 2009

Your request for information has been considered and I am not obliged to supply the information you have requested.

The report was submitted to Cabinet as "exempt information" under paragraphs 3 and 5 of Schedule 12A to the Local Government Act 1972, and as such is not in the public domain.
Paragraph 3 relates to "Information relating to the financial or business affairs of any particular person (including the authority holding that information)" and paragraph 5 to "Information in respect of which a claim to legal professional privilege could be maintained in legal proceedings".

This report is exempt under Section 42 (1) and Section 43 (2) of the Freedom of Information Act.

This exemption applies because releasing this report would damage the commercial interests of the Council as there is still a possibility of the disposal going ahead in the future.

This letter acts as a Refusal Notice under Section 17 of the Freedom of Information Act.

I then appealed and received a redacted report. This can be found here.

After the revelation that St Neots Swimming Pool Trust was liable to give HDC half the proceeds I proceeded with another Freedom of Information request. The new version of the report is here with less redactions.

So what are the differences?
Version 1
Version 2
All this is informing me what was reported in the Annual Accounts of the Swimming Pool Trust. What was so secret about all this even before the latest accounts were published?
Version 1

Version 2
Now this is the really secret part of the report. But I don't see why any of this needs to be kept secret? It is good news for St Neots and the Conservatives. HDC is doing something good for the people of St Neots and yet HDC hides this information! Why?
Version 1

Version 2

This entire minute was redacted by the Freedom of Information team. Why? It seems former decisions back in 1993 are now to be redacted in full. Is this because I could put a FOI request in for this report!

The only losers in this could be the people of St Neots. All kept secret until after the event.

What was kept redacted?
The reason for this being kept redacted is:
Please find attached the report within which sections 2.5 and 2.6 have been redacted (i.e. blanked out). This request is exempt under Section 42 (1) of FOI act. The Council does not consider it in the public’s interest to release thisinformation.

Section 42 (1) is about legal privilege. It is an exemption that has to be measured against public's interest. What Huntingdonshire District Council is saying is it isn't in the public's interest to know what the legal advice is. But if we don't know what the advice is how are we supposed to have a debate about it!

The only reason for maintaining this exemption is the District Council intends to pursue the Town Council/Swimming Pool Trust. Then again why would they do so?

Secrecy in Huntingdonshire District Council is just so ingrained. What has to be so secret about dealings with a Town Council administered Swimming Pool Trust which has members who are also District Councillors. Only the public is being excluded from something that the public has and will pay for in one way or another.

Go on HDC publish the whole report!

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