FOI request (FOIR-169657798)
Request for document part of Draft Corporate Plan and Budget consultation 2020/21
Requested Thu 23 January 2020
Responded Wed 05 February 2020
I understand that the council is conducting consultation in regard to its Draft Corporate Plan and Budget consultation 2020/21 ending 7th February 2020. Clearly I cannot request this document under FOI and make a response to your consultation .
I would be grateful you provide then your report 'Decision Making Accountability (DMA)' commissioned 2019-2020 provided to the council of which its budget forms. I am interested in their budget response to this document and would be grateful you expedite this request as it is part of consultation ending 7th February this year.
NOTICE OF REFUSAL
The information requested in respect of the Decision Making Accountability (DMA) report commissioned 2019-2020 is exempt information under Section 36 of the Freedom of Information Act 'Prejudice to effective conduct of public affairs'
Section 36 relates to information requested may be exempt if in the reasonable opinion of a qualified person disclosure of the information. I can confirm the qualified person has given that opinion.
(b) would or would be likely to inhibit.
i. The free and frank provision of advice
i. The free and frank exchange of views for the purpose of deliberations; or
(c) would otherwise prejudice or would be likely to prejudice the effective conduct of public affairs.
The exemption afforded by Section 36 is subject to what is known as the 'public interest test'. When applying the test in a particular case a public authority is deciding whether the public interest is better served by non-disclosure than by disclosure.
Although the Freedom of Information Act does not define 'in the public interest', there is a presumption under Freedom of Information that openness is in the public interest. In applying the public interest test a public authority will take into account the distinction that has been often made by courts between things that are in the public interest, and things that merely interest the public. Where applicants have not identified public interest considerations succinctly or accurately, the public authority has a responsibility under the Act to make their own assessment of the public interest considerations in the particular case.
NOTICE OF REFUSAL
The information requested is also being refused under Section 41 - Information provided in confidence.
Section 41 sets out an exemption from the right to know where the information was provided to the authority in confidence.
Information is covered by Section 41 if:
Its disclosure would constitute a breach of confidence.
When determining if an action for breach of confidence would be likely to succeed, the authority must consider whether there would be a public interest defence to the disclosure.
We have identified the following public interest factors that may be seen as encouraging the disclosure of information:
a) To promote understanding and debate on current issues
b) To promote transparency and public accountability
We consider these factors to be of limited relevance in relation to the information in question.
Public interest factors seen as encouraging non-disclosure are, generally, the exemptions themselves. In consideration of this matter we came to the following conclusions:
a) Maintaining the confidentiality of policy discussions in the interests of good governance and the perceived threat to candour and boldness within the organisation.
b) Consideration of options and the exchange of views within a 'safe space' to allow public authorities to conduct policy decisions frankly and without inhibition.
c) The degree of harm and likely prejudice or inhibition that could be suffered to officers and councillors knowing the content of private interviews could be disclosed was likely to be severe. The process of the review was on the understanding that the content was confidential.
d) Should the report be published it would prejudice the relationship between the Council and the Local Government Association. The report itself states 'The DMA report is for internal use only and should not be published externally'
e) Hastings Borough Council is a small organisation with 2 Directors and 4 Assistant Directors, budget cuts are being proposed within their areas of responsibility and if released members of staff at risk can be easily identified. If the requested information was disclosed from passed experience it is likely to be published on social media.
f) The budget process is extremely sensitive therefore Hastings Borough Council has a duty to protect our staff under Health and Safety legislation.
We would like to point out that Schedule 12A of the Local Government Act 1972 provides that exempt information covers information relating to a particular employee.
In weighing the factors for and against disclosure we have concluded that the likely benefit to the applicant and the wider public of disclosure is outweighed by the likely prejudice caused by such disclosure and that therefore the public interest is better served by non-disclosure.
Freedom of Information