What was in the 5 A4 page witness statement of Andrew Roberts (Wirral Council) about a Freedom of Information request for the minutes of a meeting of the Headteachers’ and Teachers’ Joint Consultative Committee (EA/2016/0033)?
At the outset I will make four declarations of interests.
1) I am the Appellant in this case (EA/2016/0033).
2) My wife was my McKenzie Friend in case EA/2016/0033.
3) I made the original Freedom of Information request on the 29th March 2013.
4) I am referred to by name (Mr. Brace) in paragraphs 1, 4 and 5 of the witness statement of Andrew Roberts.
This continues from an earlier blog post headlined What were the 6 A4 pages of partially redacted minutes of a Headteachers’/Teachers’ Joint Consultative Committee meeting and the name of a LGA Associate Tutor that Wirral Council disclosed voluntarily in response to a First Tier-Tribunal (General Regulatory chamber) hearing (case number EA/2016/0033) about a Freedom of Information request first made in March 2013?.
Line breaks are indicated by a double horizontal line break. A picture of Andrew Roberts at a meeting of Wirral Council’s Schools Forum from the 3rd December 2014 is below so people reading know who I’m referring to. I have included his signature at the end of the witness statement as an image.
I have added a links from his witness statement below to decision notice FS50596346 referred to in paragraph 1 of his witness statement as this has been published on ICO’s website. I also link to the Freedom of Information Act 2000 also referred to in paragraph 1.
Where paragraphs cross over multiple page I have added the paragraph number on the second page to preserve formatting and to aid with comprehension.
The witness statement of Andrew Roberts was sent to me by post to the incorrect address (Wirral Council decided to delete the road and property number) for service (recorded signed for mail) by Wirral Council on 31st May 2016. It was received by myself on the 2nd June 2016.
IN THE MATTER OF AN APPEAL TO THE FIRST-TIER TRIBUNAL (INFORMATION RIGHTS) UNDER SECTION 57 OF THE FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT 2000
(1) THE INFORMATION COMMISSIONER
(2) WIRRAL METROPOLITAN BOROUGH COUNCIL
WITNESS STATEMENT OF ANDREW ROBERTS ON BEHALF OF WIRRAL METROPOLITAN BOROUGH COUNCIL
I, ANDREW ROBERTS, of Children and Young Peoples Department Hamilton Building Birkenhead, will say as follows:-
I am a Senior Finance Manager at the Second Respondent (“the Council”). I make this statement in support of the Council’s opposition to Mr Brace’s appeal against decision FS50596346 issued by the First Respondent (“the IC”) on 25 January 2016 under the Freedom of Information Act 2000. (“FOIA”). I have read the witness statement of my colleague Surjit Tour and I agree with its contents.
I have occupied my current role since 2014 and have been employed by the Council since 1988. My background is in Local Government, mainly within Children’s Services and Schools. I am a qualified accountant.
In my role at the Council I am the lead for Families and Wellbeing Finance, including Children’s Services and schools. I am a member of the departments Strategic Leadership Team.
The information in dispute in this appeal
In my statement, I explain why the Council has continued to withhold the sections of item 15 from Mr Brace’s request which are redacted from the version of item 15 which has been disclosed to him and which appears in the open bundle before the Tribunal. I refer to the redacted parts as “the disputed information”.
Item 15 is the minutes of a meeting of the Headteachers’ and Teachers’ Joint Consultative Committee (“JCC”), held at Wallasey Town Hall on 28 February 2013. I will refer to this document as “the Minutes”. It was requested by Mr Brace on 29 March 2013. I understand that the concerns below should focus either on (a) the period around the request, or (b) the period in which Mr Tour gave his opinion under section 36(2) FOIA (late October 2014).
The JCC is a formal meeting between school professional associations and members, giving the opportunity to discuss and raise issues relating to schools and education. The JCC meets termly and its agenda is set by the associations in advance. The department will facilitate the meeting; provide supporting information and taking any agreed action where appropriate.
The JCC is a dialogue between the Professional Associations and Members, whilst other groups exist such as the Schools Forum, the membership is broader and the agenda and format is more prescribed.
I have attended JCC meetings for a number of years to represent the department, having also sat on and chaired departmental meetings with professional associations. My primary role however has been to provide advice where needed on school finance.
The JCC is important in ensuring the council maintains its communication with school staff. Although schools are managed by Headteachers and governing bodies the Council retains statutory duties for maintained schools, is the accountable body and also the employer for schools that are not Aided , Trust or Academies. Many elected members are also represented on school governing bodies.
The JCC is the forum where issues can be discussed confidentially as opposed to other more public venues such as the Schools Forum. Representatives can seek views of members and agree what action should be taken
The issues that have been raised at JCC are wide ranging. They have included subjects such as:
School places, admissions and place planning. This is a sensitive area where discussions and future plans can have far reaching implications for the pupils, staff and the service. Discussions can involve service delivery models for education and outline proposals for improvement or change
School redundancies, reasons for, numbers and cost
Job evaluation progress and implementation
Wellbeing in schools – teacher retention, workload and Health and Safety
Finance and budget changes including their impact on schools
Members of the JCC should feel secure in the knowledge that their views are confidential. Members may be employed in schools or may report the views more
generally from staff in schools they represent. The ability to have a free exchange of views between members indicates that the JCC doing its job properly.
The prejudicial consequences of the disclosure of the disputed information
I was present at the JCC meeting with which this appeal is concerned. I am familiar with the context and contents of the disputed information.
I agree with the evidence of Mr Tour that the disclosure of the redacted parts of item 15 would be likely to prejudice the free and frank exchange of views for the purposes of deliberation. This follows from the explanation I have given above about the JCC. I supplement by reference to the specific information in dispute here as follows.
- With regard to the specific redactions within the minutes I comment as follows:
– The first redaction on page 1 is the name of the HR Officer. The council does not unnecessarily disclose the personal data of more junior officers.
– A section dealing with Academies has been redacted on page 3. The personal views of Professional Association members were recorded together with actions that had been taken by individual schools in relation to becoming an academy and also in respect of some support services. The JCC provides a venue where members can speak frankly confidentially as is the case in this instance. Furthermore the conversion of schools to academies has been ongoing since 2011 and continues to be a strategic live issue for the Council. The process can create tensions, however throughout this the council has maintained a broadly neutral position
– Advanced Skills Teachers page 4. The redacted section deals with aspects of salaries for a specific group of staff and specific amounts within school budgets over a period of 3 years.
– Budget Issues page 5. The sections dealing with staff terms and conditions and assets have been redacted.
– STRB report page 6. This redacts a section dealing with comments and discussion around a report from the School Teachers Review Body’s and its recommendations for teachers pay.
For these reasons and those given by Mr Tour. I contend on behalf of the Council that the disclosure of the disputed information would have been likely to prejudice the free and frank exchange of views for the purposes of deliberation. I also agree with Mr Tour that there is a very strong public interest in avoiding these prejudicial consequences in this context, and that the overall public interest balance lies against the disclosure of the disputed information.
I therefore respectfully invite the Tribunal on behalf of the Council to conclude that the disputed information is exempt from disclosure under FOIA.
I believe that the contents of this statement are true.
That is the end of the witness statement, but there is some of what Andrew Roberts said in response to questions at the hearing on the 16th June 2016 here.
If you click on any of the buttons below, you’ll be doing me a favour by sharing this article with other people.