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Posted by: John Brace | 21st July 2015

What are the changes next year to the public's right to inspect documents of public bodies during the audit?

What are the changes next year to the public’s right to inspect documents of public bodies during the audit?

                                             

Wirral Council lease Neptune Wirral Limited Neptune Developments Limited Neptune Projects Limited 20th June 2011 for New Brighton Phase II draft car parking management plan page 2 of 2

Wirral Council lease Neptune Wirral Limited Neptune Developments Limited Neptune Projects Limited 20th June 2011 for New Brighton Phase II draft car parking management plan page 2 of 2

Above is one of the documents I requested under the 2013/14 audit last year, which is a page of a lease that Wirral Council have with Neptune that states that if Wirral Council introduce car parking in the Fort Perch Rock car park, then charges can be introduced in the free car parks part of the Marine Point development.

Each year for the past few years I have exercised a right you get to exercise only for three weeks each year, which is a right under section 15 of the Audit Commission Act 1998 to inspect documents relating to the previous financial year (2014/15) during the audit.

This has in years gone past has been the only way to see such financial information and to give one example of a story that resulted in many interesting stories on this blog (ranging from councillor’s expenses and taxis to an unsigned contract for a million pounds worth of work).

This year I have exercised my s.15 right not just with Wirral Council, but with Liverpool City Council, Merseytravel, the Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority and the Merseyside Recycling and Waste Authority.

A couple of weeks before the three-week period when the public can inspect these documents each of these bodies has to publish a public notice in a newspaper that circulates in the area covered by that body. The regulations also require each body to publish this notice on their website. Wirral Council’s notice can be found on their website here.

To save myself trekking off to Birkenhead Central library and spending an afternoon going through back issues of the local newspapers trying to find the public notices, I found this website that has a searchable database of all public notices published by the Trinity Mirror group.

All of the notices (apart from the Merseytravel one) had a name of someone at that public body who I wrote to (whether by letter or by email). In the case of Merseytravel I wrote to the Chief Executive, who passed my request on to the person at Merseytravel dealing with it.

So far the responses have been as follows:

Merseytravel – dates of Monday 27th July 2015/Tuesday 28th July 2015 agreed to come in and inspect the documents. They have a “paperless office”, but will be printing off copies of the invoices/contracts I requested so their legal department can redact parts of them.

Merseyside Waste and Recycling Authority – dates of Friday 24th July and Wednesday 29th July 2015 have been agreed to come in and inspect documents.

Liverpool City Council – email sent yesterday, no reply received yet

Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority – email sent and acknowledged on the 15th July 2015, no further reply received since

Wirral Council – email sent with request for contracts & councillor expenses on 19th July 2015, reply received yesterday, list of invoices sent this morning, no reply received yet or date/s arranged

Next year, any right of access to invoices and contracts will be under the new section 26 of the Local Audit and Accountability Act 2014.

The main differences will be next year that a new ground of refusing a request on grounds of “commercial confidentiality” has been added in to the legislation unless there is an “overriding public interest in favour of its disclosure”.

This puts on a statutory footing the Veolia case, see [2010] EWCA Civ 1214 if you’re curious about what I mean.

The new section 26 also means that determinations about what is “personal information” on documents (therefore not open to inspection) will in future be made by the public body themselves and not the situation at present of the public body having to get agreement from their external auditor to this. It does make it crystal clear that the names of sole traders on invoices is not covered by the definition of “personal information” and defines “personal information” as “identifies a particular individual or enables a particular individual to be identified”. The restriction on information about the public body’s staff remains in section 26 next year.

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Responses

  1. G’day John

    Talking of auditors and auditing here is one that will have to be watched carefully when you see some of the individuals involved.

    Funding available for Wirral community projects

    COMMUNITY groups across the borough are invited to bid for a share of cash from the Your Wirral fund.

    The fund – jointly administered by Wirral Council and housing association Magenta Living – has made available £250,000 to support local groups.

    Ooroo

    James

  2. G’day John

    She’s gone.

    They don’t have to keep showing who has got the biggest anymore.

    Time to get rid of the other cancerous wasters and things might start improving.

    Ooroo

    James

    Hope she spills the beans but will probably just start up again with Gra Gra or some other deluded fool.

    I told you about the house they rented for “The Open” thy legs didn’t I?

  3. G’day John

    Just remind me please you have a memory like “Highbrow”.

    Didn’t the last CEO say that there would be no more compromise agreements.

    Ooroo

    James

    They just do as they want.

    Don’t these clowncillors have any shame just letting them take the piss out of Wirral taxpayers? Not to mention their dosh.

    • I think he said that they weren’t using gagging clauses any more (see this article in the Wirral Globe. However Graham Burgess has since left as Chief Executive, so the new Chief Executive, as Head of Paid Service may take a different view on such matters.

  4. If they have nothing to hide it should be open to view 24/7 356 days a year, after all it is our money there spending!

    • To quote Wirral Council’s Monitoring Officer in a letter about when I exercised my rights under the audit last year which you can read at the end of that blog post:

      “The request for those documents did impose a considerable strain on the officers who were required to locate and copy those contracts after redacting commercially sensitive and personal information from those documents in accordance with the requirements of the Data Protection Act 1998 and Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Article 8, as you may know, requires a public authority to show respect for a persons private life and not to interfere with that right except as is in accordance with the law and is necessary (amongst other things) in the interests of the economic wellbeing of the country or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.

      I should emphasise that the non-redaction of the personal pension information was not intentional. The information was overlooked amongst the thousands of page of the documentation which you had requested under Section 15 of the ACA. The difficulties were compounded by the short timescales permitted by Regulation 9 of the Accounts and Audit (England) 2011 to produce the documents you had requested that related to the accounts of the Council also by the sickness absence of one of the Council’s officers who was dealing with your request.”

      In other words, from a council perspective they don’t regard three weeks as long enough to do the above, they don’t like the fact that unlike a FOI request it can’t be turned down on cost grounds and once again their view of “commercial sensitivities” is used as a trump card against the public’s right to know how they’re spending our money.

      In relation to the “personal information” bit, s.15 of the ACA requires them to get the auditor’s permission if they want to use this as an excuse not to reveal anything other than staff details. So if they had been following the letter of the law (as they redacted personal information without asking the auditor for their agreement as the legislation requires) there would have been less of a “considerable strain” and presumably more information released to the public domain.

  5. G’day John

    The way I see it John if Grant Thornton don’t push on demanding action from the recommendations in their reports about Wirral “Funny” Bizz and DCLG appears to be an impotent toothless tiger it is obviously up to the workers to do something about the could’t give a shit abusive senior officers and councillors within the dump with The Staircase to Hell.

    Most improved in Britain ha ha ha.

    Best fantasy crazy golf courses maybe.

    Did you see the tiny crowd at the Open playoff John the game is dying and there were apologies about the inconvenience to the town in the awards ceremonies.

    The awards were actually for winning not spin doctoring, Wirral should try it.

    The workers that really care about their living standards and Wirral generally should speak up on brilliant sites like yours and Wirral Leaks, anonymously if need be, because the local propaganda sheet and the rubbish paper from over Kev and Stella’s Stagnant Wirral Waters do not say what it is really like.

    Ooroo

    James

    • Thanks for that. I notice the Wirral Globe closed comments on Emma Degg’s departure and erased the comments already made.

      I thought unions were supposed to be the body to stand up for workers’s rights?

      The problem is at Wirral Council, whether it’s a junior worker writing a letter to the local newspaper and using their own name about something embarrassing, or a parent complaining that a well loved special school is earmarked for closure, many people won’t put their name out there in the public domain out of fear. Fear of losing their job and not being able to keep food on the table and a roof over their family’s head or fear that their political campaigning will result in people taking it out on their own children.

      For some odd reason (even though I always try to convince people otherwise) some people think I am a councillor.

      I’m just what used to be called an investigative journalist (which is why I prefer court reporting more than political reporting).

      The trouble is investigative journalism is a dying art these days as it requires a lot of persistence and persevering (oh and an ability to know when you’re being spun a line too).

  6. G’day John

    I fully understand what you are saying John as I was down to the last £3.06 of my overdraft yesterday till “Highbrow” lent me £25.

    Since I blew the whistle to Adderley and Basnett on Wirral “Funny” Bizz just over four years ago I have not found a days paid work since.

    They have probably earned over half a million quid defending Wirral “Funny” Bizz knocking off about £2,000,000.00.

    Would I be either of them?

    No effing way.

    I would rather not live in a society like that.

    They really are scumbag lowlifes and I don’t know how anyone can talk to them let alone work for them.

    They have had about £250,000.00 of your council tax money spent by their colleagues defending criminality that they are fully aware of.

    I wonder why they keep him on and have not given him the big pay off.

    I suppose because no one would want him but more importantly if DCLG ever do anything they will need a deluded fantasist to blame for all the shit.

    Ooroo

    James

    Ps If anyone does have to speak to them, please, for me, give them a smile a nod and a wink like what “The Pretend Friend” does indicating that you know all about them and Wirral “Funny” Bizz.

    • Eventually DCLG will have to release the report as Mr Hobro is very persistent in his FOI requests.

      However even if ICO issued a decision notice for it, I’m sure DCLG would either come up with another reason to withhold it or appeal ICO’s decision to an Information Tribunal.

      Weirdly, if a public body appeals an ICO decision notice, only the public body and ICO are parties and the original requester is merely informed of the tribunal’s decision and doesn’t (unless they appealed to) have a right to take part in its deliberations.


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