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Secrecy and Lawyer’s Bills Shroud GCC’s Incinerator

Tim Davies, a Green Party member and open data campaigner, has been informed that GCC will not release updated costs for disposal of waste they have agreed with Urbaser Balfour Beatty, even though they have been instructed to do so, again, by the Information Commissioner.

Gloucestershire County Council have spent over £400,000 with Eversheds LLP in relation to Javelin Park since 2015, with invoices from April 2017 showing at least £200k related to the Information Tribunal appeal. They substantively lost that – yet they are just about to commit taxpayers money to another costly appeal, trying to keep information secret that a judge has already ruled is overwhelmingly in the public interest to disclose.

Mr Davies said “as a Gloucestershire resident who is going to pay for this contract, I want to see what has been agreed in my name, I want to see what value for money is being provided. It should not be a matter of trust it, should be a matter of fact”

He added “it is when information is hidden from the public that corruption can flourish. It is in GCC’s interests, residents interests and the companies working for local authorities interests to make these contracts and payments open and transparent.”

Cllr Eva Ward (Green Stroud) noted “GCC are about to waste £100,000s on lawyers. If that money was spent in the Stroud area it could have kept our well-loved children’s centre open. GCC are taking money from vulnerable children and using it to keep secret a contract they have signed in our name.”

Cllr Rachel Smith (Green, Minchinhampton) added “GCC have a habit of losing appeals to the Information Commissioner’s Office. How many more hundreds of thousands of pounds are they going to spend hiding information from their residents and taxpayers. They are taking funding from already suffering public services to bury what?”

For further information:

Key points:

  • GCC have appealed ICO ruling that they should reveal updated gate fees and project financials;
  • They are likely to spend thousands on lawyers’ fees to keep information secret.
  • They continue to fight disclosure of financial details in separate case relating to the full updated contract;
  • One figure seemed to slip through the redactions in the latest contract release, and shows over a 10% increase in price of refused waste. If other prices have gone up by the same amount, this could (a) breach procurement rules; (b) mean any remaining value for money claims are sorely eroded.

Timeline of recent developments:

  • 10th March 2017: The First Tier Information Tribunal rules that Gloucestershire County Council must reveal details of the charging structure (including income from energy generation) for the Javelin Park Incinerator. The ruling notes that it is clearly in the public interest to understand the agreed prices for disposal of waste.

    The tribunal ruling reveals that the contract was re-negotiated in 2015.

  • 21st March 2017: Green Party member, Tim Davies, makes an FOI request for a report written by Ernst and Young, and mentioned in the ruling, which may explain some of the changes in price.

    (Public authorities are supposed to respond to requests relating to environment information within 20 working days.)

  • 31s August 2017: Gloucestershire County Council provide a heavily redacted copy of the report, without details of the updated gate fees or anticipated income from power generation.

    Tim writes to the Information Commissioner’s Office to request a review of GCCs decision to continue withholding the latest version of information that the Tribunal had previously ruled must be open.

  • 6th March 2018: After intervention from the ICO, GCC release slightly more information, but keep all the key figures blacked out.

    Tim asks the ICO to intervene again.

  • 7th June 2018: The Information Commissioner issues a decision notice, re-inforcing the earlier Tribunal Ruling, and requiring GCC to disclose key pricing figures, citing the public right to know this information in order to hold decision makers to account.
  • 6th July 2018: Gloucestershire County Council appeal again to the Information Tribunal.