It's Your Right to Know

News Items, Investigations & Exposés



27 July 2011:
The London Metropolitan Police Authority failed to locate all documents relating to the controversial hiring of an ex-News of the World journalist on a PR consultancy, in response to an enquiry from a BBC journalist.
Executive producer Martin Rosenbaum requested copies of all paperwork relating to the Met's dealings with former deputy editor Neil Wallis, and received some invoices and parts of the standard contract.
Expense claims show that Wallis, who has been arrested and questioned by detectives working on the Operation Weeting enquiry into phone hacking, and Met public affairs director Dick Fedorcio had lunch at a Westminster restaurant before the deal was struck.
The paperwork also showed Mr Wallis charged £4700 for two months' work under the contract, which was processed, but as reported on the BBC website the Met PA told Mr Rosenbaum it could not locate any of the contract schedules giving details of fees or the terms of the work.
Mr Rosenbaum filed his request to the police authority after discussing the Audit Commission Act rights with ONB director Richard Orange.
Link to the BBC article here.

22 July 2011:
Richmond London Borough Council has re-scheduled its public inspection period after ONB queried its failure to advertise the public rights on the authority's website in time.
New regulations in force since March 2011 compel authorities to post a notice on local govt websites, detailing times and locations, and rights to question the district auditor. The rules say information must be given at least 14 days before the start of viewing by the public.
A spokesperson told ONB: "Thank you for bringing this issue to our attention. To ensure the Council fully complies with the requirements of the 2011 regulations we have revised the inspection dates and republished the notice online and in the Richmond and Twickenham Times."
Link to the public notice here.

22 July 2011:
Sandwell Metropolitan Council has breached the rules by failing to give sufficient notice to taxpayers and voters of their rights to hold the body to account.
The authority finally uploaded a copy of the statutory notice to its website on 21 July, which was three weeks after the public inspection began, in violation of the Accounts and Audit Regulations.
Link to the public notice here.

13 July 2011:
Surrey County Council has breached the rules by failing to give sufficient notice to taxpayers and voters of their rights to hold the body to account.
Surrey failed to upload a copy of the statutory notice to its website, before the inspection began on 1 July, in violation of the Accounts and Audit Regulations.
Link to the public notice here.

13 July 2011:
Derbyshire and Lancashire Police Authorities breached the rules by failing to give sufficient notice to taxpayers and voters of their rights to inspect and copy 2010/2011 files.
Both authorities failed to upload copies of the statutory notices to respective website, in Derbyshire's case not until 13 days after the inspection period began, and 8 days in Lancashire's case.
A Derbyshire PA spokesperson incorrectly asserted (in response to ONB's enquiries) that the regulations did not require online publication.
Update: 22 July 2011. Lancashire PA today re-scheduled and re-advertised the inspection period. A spokesperson told ONB: "Thank you for bringing the original omission to our attention and we apologise for any inconvenience."
Link to the Derbyshire notice here.
Link to the Lancashire noticed here.

13 July 2011:
A Norfolk authority has provided local taxpayers with more time to scrutinise spending, after ONB queried the absence of information on the council website.
The Kings Lynn/North Norfolk Borough Council has agreed with its external auditor to extend its public inspection period by a further week (to 26 Aug), after Orchard News Bureau Ltd alerted the authority to its failure to post an online notice of public rights to hold the authority to account.

12 July 2011:
Thames Valley Police Authority has breached the rules by failing to give sufficient notice to taxpayers and voters of their rights to hold the body to account.
The authority failed to upload a copy of the statutory notice to its website, until a week after the inspection period began, in violation of the 2011 regulations.
An authority spokesperson incorrectly asserted (in response to ONB's enquiries) that a notice earlier published in the local press had provided "full coverage" in the constabulary area.

Link to the public notice here.

11 July 2011:
Humberside Police Authority has failed to publish an accurate notice advising local people of their rights to inspect and copy the accounts for 2010/11.
The authority's notice (published online) incorrectly asserts that the right to view and take copies of the accounts is restricted to "electors".
This is incorrect because section 15 of the statute refers to "interested persons" and case law (notably HTV West v. Bristol City Council 2004) established this right extends to taxpayers and businesses which indirectly contribute non-domestic payments to the authority.

Link to the public notice here.

11 July 2011:
Knowsley Metropolitan Council and Havant Borough Council have both failed to provide local taxpayers with online information about their rights to inspect and copy the 2010/11 accounts.

Knowsley has already closed its accounts to public scrutiny. A spokesperson told ONB: "The pre-audit notice of public rights for Knowsley’s 2010/11 accounts was placed in the Liverpool Daily Post on Monday 6 June 2011. To date these notices have never been placed on the council’s website."
Havant's inspection is ongoing. A spokesperson told ONB: "The council advertised the right to inspect the council's accounts in the Portsmouth News on 16 June 2011. This notice was not put onto the council's web site."
Link to the Knowsley notice here.

10 July 2011:
Staffordshire Police Authority has failed to provide local taxpayers with sufficient time to view and copy spending files, for at least the fourth year running.
The authority has set aside only 15 working days for the public to inspect contracts, bills, expenses and receipts, instead of the four weeks required by law.
The police authority breached the rules in the same way last year, again in 2009 and 2008. These failings to comply with the law were offences under the regulations at the time, but the 2011 regulations have repealed that sanction.
Link to the public notice here.

10 July 2011:
North Tyneside Metropolitan Council has failed to provide local taxpayers with sufficient online information about rights to inspect and copy spending files.
The authority has published a briefing note on its website which gives the dates for the 20-day statutory period, but has failed to apply the correct format (an exact copy of the notice as published in the local press). The online notice also fails to include contact details for the authority's external auditor, which is required under the regulations.
Link to the public notice here.

10 July 2011:
Stoke on Trent Council has failed to provide local taxpayers with accurate online information about their rights to inspect and copy spending files.
The authority is required to publish an accurate copy of the statutory public notice on its website, at least 14 days before the start of the inspection period, but has not done so.
The council has published the dates of the inspection without any other information (required by law) on a website page entitled 'Council and democracy: transparency'.
Link to the webpage here.

7 July 2011:
Hastings borough council has failed to comply with its legal obligations to local taxpayers and voters.
Hastings has set aside only 15 working days for the public to scrutinise the 2010/11 accounts, instead of the four weeks required.
Link to the public notice here.
Update 11 July 2011: The council has today postponed the current inspection and is re-advertising the period in a replacement public notice in the local press and online, following ONB's story.

1 July 2011:
The Yorkshire Purchasing Organisation has failed to run a proper public inspection of its annual accounts for 2010/11.
The authority (which is a procurement agency for 13 major councils in the region) advertised that its accounts were open to inspection by local taxpayers and voters during April.
But the notice incorrectly informed the public that expenditure and income during the 2010 calendar year (Jan 2010-Dec 2010) was open to scrutiny.
The audit commission act and the regulations require local authorities to run public audits to the financial year (Apr 2010-March 2011).
Link to the public notice here.

1 July 2011:
Warwickshire County Council and Warwickshire Police Authority have given misleading information about their legal obligations to local taxpayers and voters.
A joint public notice incorrectly claims that financial documents available for inspection and copying may be censored under the data protection act.
As was made clear by the high court in the ONB v Lincolnshire CC hearing (2005), and by the court of appeal in the Veolia v Nottinghamshire CC decision (2010), this assertion is incorrect.
Third party information may be deleted, but with the prior consent of the external auditor, and otherwise only under the provisions of section 15 of the audit commission act.
Link to the public notice here.

26 May 2011:
Cleveland Police Authority has failed to provide local taxpayers with sufficient time to view and copy spending files, for the second year running.
The authority has set aside only 15 working days for the public to inspect contracts, bills, expenses and receipts, instead of the four weeks required by law.
The police authority breached the rules in the same way last year, despite complying with the statute in 2008 and 2009.
Link to the public notice here.

23 May 2011:
The Devon and Cornwall Fire and Rescue Authority has failed to provide local taxpayers with sufficient time to examine and scrutinise contracts, expenses and other financial records.
The authority's statutory notice sets aside only 15 working days for electors and taxpayers to view and copy records relating to the 2010/2011 financial year. The law stipulates that the period should be for 20 working days. Link to the newspaper advert here.

29 October 2010:
The Court of Appeal today ruled that taxpayers and voters are entitled to examine local authority contracts and invoices - but that councils and contractors are entitled to protect legitimate 'trade secrets'.
Lords Justice Rix, Jackson and Etherton today said the Audit Commission Act 1998 (a law which permits the public to trawl through local govt accounts each summer) requires councils and police authorities to disclose files to local taxpayers and voters except where there is a 'strong public interest' against disclosure.
More here.

July 2010:
The Court of Appeal has been tasked to decide whether UK taxpayers and voters (including journalists) are free to view, copy and then publicise details of Town Hall finances.
Lords Justice Rix, Jackson and Etherton are to judge whether the Audit Commission Act (a law which permits the public to trawl through local govt accounts each summer) must be tightened up, to enable councils and consultants to keep 'confidential' contracts and invoices out of public view.
The court is also to rule whether taxpayers and voters (including journalists) should be prohibited from disclosing any information inspected and copied to any individual or organisation other than a nominated district auditor - who will determine what information can be made public.

More details of court submissions here.

July 2010:
Media obtain details of Spa project
Journalists at the Bath Chronicle accessed the accounts to uncover hitherto confidential costs of a building project in the town.
More details here.

February 2010:
Court of Appeal fixes Veolia hearing
Waste management firm Veolia ES Nottinghamshire's battle to keep details of a multi-million pound PFI project out of public scrutiny (see stories below) is heading to the Court of Appeal.
The hearing is scheduled for 5 July 2010.
Details will be updated.

October 2009:
Veolia appeals High Court ruling
Waste management firm Veolia ES Nottinghamshire has lodged a formal appeal against a High Court ruling ordering disclosure of financial details of a multi-million pound PFI incinerator project.
The company, which took judicial review proceedings to stop Nottinghamshire county council releasing parts of a contract and monthly invoices to local campaigner Shlomo Dowen (pictured below), has filed papers with the Court of Appeal.
It is understood that the company intends to argue that commercial confidentiality interests over-ride the taxpayers' rights to peruse the disputed accounts. Mr Justice Cranston rejected Veolia's case in the High Court hearing earlier this month, and ordered the council to provide Mr Dowen with access to the files.
An appeal hearing date is pending.

October 2009:
High Court rules against Veolia on 'commercial confidentiality deal'
The High Court has rejected an attempt by environmental company Veolia to keep details of a major PFI deal under wraps.
The company, which is operating an incinerator site near Sherwood Forest, Notts, has been told it can not prevent Friends of the Earth campaigner Shlomo Dowen (pictured) from inspecting last year's PFI invoices and contracts at his local county council.
Veolia argued that its commercial interests would be damaged if there was disclosure, as part of the recent annual public audit of accounts. But Judge Cranston said Parliament had established a clear right for the public to view such files.
For a summary of the judgement, click here.

September 2009:
Council leader claimed double London hotel allowance from taxpayer
Conservative council leader Martin Hill (pictured) claimed £292 for an overnight stay at a luxury London hotel, so that he could "network" with other councillors.
Orchard News Bureau Ltd discovered the politician omitted to seek permission from Lincolnshire County Council before booking accommodation and submitting the claim -
which was more than twice the £130 London overnight stay rate permitted in the authority's own financial regulations.
Hill took a room at the Intercontinental Hotel in Park Lane, Mayfair, after attending a regional planning conference in the capital earlier in the day.
Finance officials initially queried the invoice, before being instructed to pay out.
The council issued a statement saying Hill's claim was approved because he had wanted to spend more time "networking" with other councillors. For more on the story, see the Rotten Boroughs section of issue #1245 of Private Eye.

August 2009:
High Court hearing on 'commercial confidentiality deal'
Judgment is pending over an attempt by environmental firm Veolia to stop a council releasing details of a PFI deal which cost £21m last year.
The company issued legal proceedings after Nottinghamshire taxpayer and campaigner Shlomo Dowen (pictured above) requested access to financial files, using his audit act inspection rights.
At a hearing earlier this week, Veolia argued its contract and monthly invoices were not covered by legislation requiring accounts to be opened to public inspection.
The company also argued that its itemised fees were commercially sensitive and confidential, and should not be disclosed to taxpayers, sub-contractors or rival firms.
Mr Justice Cranston is reserving his decision.
For a summary of Counsels' submissions at the hearing, click here.

August 2009:
Tory politician tight-lipped over late-night phone calls, charged to taxpayer
Conservative councillor Pauline Watson (pictured) is in hot water after leaving Lincolnshire taxpayers with a bill running close to £1,000, for regular late-night calls to a mobile number.
Orchard News Bureau Ltd discovered the politician's extravagent use of a dedicated, county council-funded phone line - supposedly provided for constituency business - after inspecting bills under the audit regulations.
The council paid the quarterly demands without checking full details with BT. Councillor Watson, who represents Louth, refused to answer any questions from ONB.
For more on the story, see the Rotten Boroughs section of issue #1243 of Private Eye.
Update: (15 July 2010): ONB has obtained a copy of a receipt showing Cllr Watson repaid £452 from her expenses in August 2009, following contact from ONB and a meeting with council officials.

August 2009:
London paper wins Town Hall 'battle'
A London journalist has revealed details of elected councillors' expenses and travel claims, after what her editor describes as 'a week long battle for the truth'.
In her weekly comment column, Hounslow and Brentford Times editor Helen Barnes said: 'Despite it being a criminal offence to obstruct access, Hounslow chiefs came very close to doing just that. For days, this newspaper had to fight for access to Hounslow's accounts.'
Reporter Lucy Buckland finally succeeded in obtaining access to the files - which produced a double page story about 'extravagent meals', 'luxurious hotel bookings' and flights run up by elected members.
This story was published by the Hounslow and Brentford Times and also features on the Hold The Front Page website.

From the archives:
PA correspondent forces Met to reveal payouts to informants
The Metropolitan Police released hitherto secret details of payments to registered informants after a journalist filed an audit inspection enquiry.
The force had previously refused to disclose costs in response to FOI requests.
Press Association crime correspondent Chris Greenwood instead requested details under the audit act, after reading an article by ONB director Richard Orange in trade magazine Press
Gazette, outling taxpayers' rights to examine the accounts.
After some reluctant and erroneous references to the Official Secrets Act, the Metropolitan Police Authority provided Greenwood with access to the files on the final day of the inspection.
This story was published by Press Gazette in September 2007

From the archives:
'You're hired!' - by email
Management consultant and stand-in council CEO Jan Didrichsen (pictured) hired a spin doctor on a lucrative two-year deal which cost council taxpayers more than £200,000.
PR 'guru' Mark Fletcher Brown charged £850 a day to advise Lincolnshire county council's politicians and officials on how to improve the authority's public 'image'.
Didrichsen, who continued to run his Yorkshire business while working as the council's head of paid service, engaged the PR consultant in a friendly-worded email exchange.
ONB discovered the council failed to draw up a formal written contract for much of Fletcher Brown's first year in situ, and had not followed audit rules requiring a record to be kept of why the work had not been put out to tender.
This story was first published by ONB in August 2006

From the archives:
Council broke audit rules for email 'masterclasses'
A consultancy was paid more than £14,000 of taxpayers' money to give a handful of council staff a series of 'clinics' on how to write, send and store email messages.
ONB's checks with Companies House revealed that the London firm involved was set up a week before the deal was struck, and then closed down a week after the contract ended.
Lincolnshire county council breached its own audit rules by awarding the contract, without seeking quotes from alternative companies, or keeping proper written records detailing the reasons for not doing so.
This story was first published by ONB in August 2006

From the archives:
Licensed to bill
Journalists from the Newark Advertiser spent two days at Nottinghamshire County Council's offices, checking bills and invoices relating to elected members' expense claims.
The newspaper revealed that Councillor Colin Bromfield had followed up three foreign trips on council business to Russia, with dozens of calls on a council-supplied mobile phone, including calls at 5am local time, over the Christmas period. The inquiry also revealed that the Newark councillor had submitted expenses claims for attending meetings in Nottingham and Newcastle, on the same day. The newspaper quoted the councillor saying he was passing on festive greetings to Russian contacts, and that he had made a mistake with the exact times on his travel expenses claim.
This story was published by the Advertiser in August 2004

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