Why was I “gagged” from writing about a £1.2 billion contract?
Below is a transcript of the above Youtube video (which at the time of writing is uploading but should be available by about 6.20pm on the 28/7/2015).
Hello viewers, I’m John Brace. Normally I’m behind the camera not in front of it, but today I wanted to talk about a £1.2 billion contract that councillors have signed between Merseyside Waste Disposal Authority now called Merseyside Recycling and Waste Authority and SITA Sembcorp UK Limited.
A few weeks ago as part of the public’s rights under the audit when the public can inspect various invoices and contracts for three weeks each year I requested this particular contract, although as there weren’t any payments made on this contract under the last financial year, they first of all classed it as a freedom of information request, then they got back to me and said now it’s an Environmental Information Regulations request.
They did give me a copy of the contract but all the pricing information was blacked out. However the strange thing now after making Freedom of Information and Environmental Information Regulations requests for years and years is I came across something new in that when they sent me an email back saying this is the result of the public interest test as to why we’ve redacted certain bits, they referred to the Re-Use of Public Sector Information Regulations 2005 and basically said at the bottom that if I wanted to republish it or reuse it, I’d have to ask them for a licence!
Anyway I looked up the Re-Use of Public Sector Information Regulations 2005 and yes they do apply to information that’s been given out for freedom of information requests or Environmental Information Regulations requests.
Anyway I found out that the Re-Use of Public Sector Information Regulations 2005 were in fact repealed before the date of their letter.
They were repealed on the 18th July. So they don’t apply any more, but the Re-Use of Public Sector Information Regulations 2015 do apply and they contain some changes which is why I’m making this video.
You see in, let’s see if I can get it up in Regulation I think it’s 5, yep Regulation 5 of the of the Re-Use of Public Sector Information Regulations 2015 state these regulations do not apply to documents held by public service broadcasters and their subsidiaries, and other bodies and their subsidiaries for the purposes of the provision of programme services.
Now if you look up what these definitions actually mean in the Communications Act 2003, right, body means any body or association of persons, whether corporate or unincorporate, including a firm; so that could just mean me and Leonora, now the definition of programme services is a bit more complicated but the definition of programme services means a television programme service, the public teletext service, an additional television service, a digital additional television service, a radio programme service or a sound service provided by the BBC and then it goes on to define “television programme” means any programme (with or without sounds) which is produced wholly or partly to be seen on television and consists of moving or still images or of legible text or of a combination of those things.
Now I’ve checked whether videos on this Youtube channel are being watched on TVs and I’ll just have a quick look on my laptop and see. Yes, over the last year there have been 189 views on smart TVs and set top boxes for TV. So therefore strangely enough I come under the definition of, this comes under the definition of television programme and therefore the regulations do not apply to this particular document so I don’t have to ask their permission to publish it because it’s to do with this programme service and that’s why I’m recording this.
However on a final note I’d like to point out that the, shall we say the principle that every time somebody in the media makes a freedom of information request or an environmental information regulations request, before they use that information they’ve got to ask for permission from the public body to reuse it and state what purpose it’s for is well for anybody in the media who makes a freedom of information request and then writes stories on them is not the way it’s done.
Err, I don’t know if anybody else has heard of these regulations or whether they’re going to crop up in future FOI requests even though I think Wirral Council would quite like to send a boilerplate text at the end of each reply they send to me saying that I can’t use them unless I get their permission under the Re-Use of Public Sector Information Regulations 2015 in which case I’ll just make another video like this and then it doesn’t apply.
Anyway going back to the £1.2 billion contract between Merseyside Waste Disposal Authority or now Merseyside Recycling and Waste Authority and SITA Sembcorp UK Limited. This is an 864 page contract that over the lifetime of the contract they will pay out £1.2 billion for and relates to for years and years and years basically putting Merseyside’s rubbish on a train, sending it up to somewhere in the North-East of England, burning it and generating electricity from the rubbish.
I’m not sure what happens to the rubbish after they’ve burnt it but perhaps I need to read the contract better but I will be publishing the contract along with this video on my website so you can have a look for yourself. On the subject of the information that is blacked out, I’ll be looking into whether I’ll make a whatever the, I think it’s a reconsideration under the Environmental Information Regulations request for that information to be revealed but I’ll have to look into the detail and unfortunately basically the way the contract is worded it’s very unlikely that I’ll get access to the financial information in it but I’ll publish the rest of it on my blog, so you can have a read to see what your money will be spent on from 2017.
The only other thing, well two other things to say about this contract are firstly, this contract was signed back in 2013 and at that time the government were making various financial incentives to do this kind of thing so that the rubbish didn’t go to landfill but this was one of three projects where the government decided that there were already enough energy from waste contracts to supply our needs for years and years in the future and they withdrew the £90 million PFI credits for this particular contract.
Now the two other places that were affected by this decision decided to take the government to judicial review, I don’t know what happened as a result of that and finally the only other thing to point out about this contract is that there were, in the end two bidders for this contract one of whom was obviously the successful contractor SITA Sembcorp UK Limited.
Now the unsuccessful bidder sued Merseyside Waste Disposal Authority because they alleged things had happened during the tendering process that shouldn’t have and in fact they even got the court to basically set aside the contract or set aside basically implementing the contract until the court case was settled.
Now the court case was eventually settled out of court, the second placed contractor basically asked for Merseyside Waste Disposal Authority to pay all the profit they would have got if they’d been awarded the contract and of course Merseyside Waste Disposal Authority doesn’t have that kind of money because it would be over £100 million. I can’t remember what the estimate was, I think it was something between £100 million and £200 million. So anyway that’s the last thing I wanted to say about this and I hope you enjoyed this video and the contract is on my blog.
If someone could explain the meaning of Regulation 5(2) of The Re-use of Public Sector Information Regulations 2015:
“(2) These Regulations do not apply to a document unless it—
(a) has been identified by the public sector body as being available for re-use;
(b) has been provided to the applicant; or
(c) is accessible by means other than by making a request for it within the meaning of the 1998 Act, the 2000 Act (or where appropriate the 2002 Act) or the 2004 Regulations (or where appropriate the 2004 Scottish Regulations).”
and whether this means:
(a) the regulations don’t apply to FOI requests, EIR requests or data protection act requests or
(b) the regulations apply to everything but FOI requests, EIR requests or data protection act requests
and leave a comment it would be appreciated.
UPDATED 17:45 28/7/15 Merseyside Waste and Recycling Authority have today stated "the Authority is aware of its obligations in relation to transparency, and the publication of public sector information. We are more than happy that members of the public can access this material, and are free to question, query and publish aspects of the Authority’s work."
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