Freesteel Blog » FOI trumps unnecessarily secret local authority meetings

FOI trumps unnecessarily secret local authority meetings

Tuesday, July 21st, 2009 at 6:13 am Written by:

What do you do when you spot that the Freedom of Information Act is missing from the list of statutory considerations for when the council wishes to summarily deny public access when they are discussing financial or business affairs of any entity including themselves?

Dear Sir or Madam,

I have noticed that decision L/6 regarding Neptune Theatre made by the Executive Board of Liverpool City Council on 22 May 2009 (and related documents) has been declared restricted by virtue of paragraph 3 of Part 1 of Schedule 12A of the Local Government Act 1972:

“Information relating to the financial or business affairs of any particular person (including the authority holding that information)”

which is not required to be registered by any of the following Acts:

The Companies Act 1985, The Friendly Societies Act 1974, The Friendly Societies Act 1992, The Industrial and Provident Societies Acts, The Building Societies Act 1986, The Charities Act 1993 (link)

It appears that the very wide-ranging Schedule 12A was inserted by The Local Government (Access to Information) (Variation) Order 2006 under the powers of the Local Government (Access to Information) Act 1985, and I am of the opinion that it was an oversight not to include the Freedom of Information Act 2000 among those acts that have to be taken into consideration when deciding to hold council business in secret.

Please may I have disclosure of this decision and related documents for this agenda item considered under the Freedom of Information Act.

It worked.

Nothing particularly exciting, though, beyond the usual dispute of a landlord demanding loads of money to allow a tenant to upgrade the premises, or something like that.

The Council has operated the Neptune Theatre since the late 1960’s. The Council leases the Theatre from a commercial landlord who receives from the Council an annual rental fee which has been £6k. The Council also pay the landlord an annual service charge for the Theatre, currently £53k.

In May 2005 the City Council received a report detailing the poor and deteriorating condition of the Theatre building. The report identified the need for major internal refurbishment and works required to comply with the Disability Discrimination Act and Health and Safety at Work Act…

Since this date there have been protracted negotiations between the Landlord and the Council. To bring these negotiations to a conclusion the parties eventually engaged the services of an external arbitrator. The arbitrator has now issued his Award in the sum of £23,900pa increasing the lease from the £6000 pa previously payable but considerably less than the £55,000 pa the landlords agents were proposing.

Now why the heck would the Council want to hide this information and outcome from the public even for a minute? Doesn’t look like it’s in their interests. Is it just a matter of habit?

Maybe it’s time for a Local Government (Access to Information) (Done Properly) Order 2009.

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