Headlines: February 1st, 2007

COUNCIL MUST NAME MEMBERS FORCED TO REPAY EXPENSES

 

A council has been ordered to release the names of some of its elected members who repaid money after claiming excessive amounts in expenses. Doncaster Metropolitan Borough now has just over a month to comply with the ruling from the Information Commissioner.

The Commissioner’s decision follows the council’s initial refusal to release the information because it felt doing so would be in breach of the Data Protection Act. In refusing the initial request for information the council had also said that disclosing the information would have exceeded the appropriate time limit under the Freedom of Information Act and that some information was already in the public domain.

In his decision the Commissioner has drawn a distinction between repayments that were made voluntarily and so-called criminal repayments that were made after an investigation by South Yorkshire Police in the late 1990s. He has ordered the council to make public the names of members who were convicted and the amount they were told to pay back but decided that it would be unfair to name those councillors who had made voluntary repayments.

The Commissioner’s ruling says the council was right that responding fully to the request would have exceeded the time limit, but the authority had breached the Act by failing to offer the person asking for the details the chance to narrow down the request to bring it within the limit.