On 12 July 2019 a Member of the Princes Parade Group made a request for information under the Freedom of Information Act 2000:
“This request is for provision by email of following information relating to the proposed development of Princes Parade, Hythe:
1. Copy of the contract awarded to Faithful & Gould on 20/06/2019 under Purchase Order SD00462, valued at £1,132,309.50.
2. Specification for the work required.
3. Audit trail showing all the authorisations that led to placement of this contract, with names (or posts) of the authorising officers and dates.
4. Details of the Capital budget provision that is currently in place for the proposed development of Princes Parade, to include details of all commitments that have been entered into so far, and which includes cover for the above contract.”
The council used the standard answers and responded on 12 August 2019 by providing redacted copies of some documents, including the contract. However, it withheld information under section 40(2) (personal data of third parties), and section 43 (commercial interests).
The Member of the Princes Parade Group requested that the council carry out an internal review (look at it again) on 12 September 2019. The council confirmed the receipt of the request for internal review on 26 September 2019. No further response was received.
Under the Freedom of Information Act the Council ought to have responded to the internal review request within a certain number of days. But they didn’t comply with an Act of Parliament (quelle surprise)
The Member of the Princes Parade Group contacted the Information Commissioner Office (ICO) on 12 January 2020 to complain about the way their request for information had been handled. The Member of the Princes Parade Group initial complaint, was that the council had not responded to their request for an internal review response to them.
Between the 28 Jan 2020 and the 2 December 2020 the Council prevaricated, and dragged out the time in responding to the ICO. To cut a long story short, the Council sent further unredacted information to the Member of the Princes Parade Group and then informed the ICO “that some information had been deleted due to an automatic 12-month deletion policy on emails.” so was not held.
However, in the Council’s Retention Schedule, deletion of emails is set out at TAB 2 – 2.23, but 2.23 make it clear the emails has Microsoft’s Mail Safe Communication archive tool, meaning under Section 3(2)(b) of the Freedom of Information Act,
the information “is held by another person on behalf of the authority.”
Now, consider this for a moment. Grenfell Tower burnt down on the 14 June 2017, since then an inquiry has been set up. The inquiry has had full access to the email chains prior to the fire and after. How? Because they had a Mail Safe Communication archive tool or something similar.
Now given that, the Council should have responded by saying either:
The information was held and they’ll go and get it and give it to the Member of the Princes Parade Group, or
The cost and resources required to review and remove any exempt information were likely to be so great as to place the organisation under a grossly oppressive burden (this all happened during COVID so could have been a legitimate excuse) then they could consider the request under Section 14 instead (vexatious requests).
It is important to remember that section 14(1) of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (vextatious requests) can only be applied to the request itself, and not the individual who submits it.
As an aside the ICO on the 24 September 2020, wrote to the council asking it to respond to their email of 15 August 2020. The council wrote back on 28 September 2020 stating that it had not received an attachment but considered that this may have been separated by its servers (We’ll leave you to decide if that’s believable or not). The ICO confirmed the attachment was sent with the email of 24 September 2020. The ICO resent the email, with the attachment, on 28 September 2020.
Moving on, the ICO informed the Member of the Princes Parade Group they have legitimate concerns over the level of engagement which the council has shown to them (the ICO), in responding, and responding in a timely manner, during their investigation.
The ICO therefore requires the council to disclose the information requested in accordance with the requirements of Regulation 5(1) of the FoI Act.
The ICO make the council did not comply with the requirements of Regulation 5(2) in that it has not provided all of the information which falls within the scope of the request within 20 working days.
The ICO has decided that the council did not comply with the requirements of Regulation 11(4).
The ICO took into account the ongoing issues and reassignment of resources which they recognise the Council had to make in order to continue providing their functions whilst dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, the result of the delays by the Council in this particular case, led to information being deleted by the council’s automatic email deletion process which might otherwise have fallen within the scope of the Member of the Princes Parade Group request for information.
The ICO intends to contact the council to address this issue, separately from this decision notice.
You can read the full decision notice ⇒ here
Finally, the Cabinet Member responsible for Freedom of Information Portfolio is the same man who betrayed Princes Parade – Cllr Ray Field.
The Shepway Vox Team
Dissent is NOT a Crime