Headlines: June 30th, 2008

A local council has been ordered to make public details of a contract with a commercial partner after the Information Commissioner’s Office dismissed claims that releasing the contract might prejudice the commercial interests of the council or the contractor.

Mid Suffolk District Council will now have to publish the contract, including the financial details, relating to repairs and maintenance work at Mid Suffolk Leisure Centre. The Council has 35 days to release the information. It had originally provided an editied version of the contract but told the person asking for the information that it was unwilling to release the financial details.

The council put forward several reasons for this, including that disclosure would breach confidentiality and set a precedent as well as possibly preventing it from obtaining the best possible prices for future work or projects. But in her ruling, the Assistant Commissioner, Anne Jones, refused to accept disclosure would be likely to lead to any change in the tendering process or undermine the council’s ability to achieve best value for money in future.

The contract in question dated back to 2004, she said, and she refused to accept the council’s view that disclosure would deter organisations from entering into business withpublic authorities because council contracts were a lucrative source of business for commercial organisations.

Anne Jones also criticised the council for taking several months to deal with the complainant’s request for an internal review and for what she called, “unacceptable delays in providing additional information and explanations throughout the investigation.” The ICO said the council had repeatedly refused to provide material in a timely manner and it has now been formally reminded of its obligations under the Freedom of Information Act.