The rules governing
the public's rights to view and copy local authority files
are profiled in this section.
October 2009 & 2010: The
Veolia legal challenge to Notts County Council (2009/2010)
CC was constrained under a temporary injunction
obtained by Veolia ES (Nottinghamshire) Ltd not to disclose parts of a contract
and parts of invoices relating to a waste incinerator PFI
project, to a local taxpayer and Friends of the Earth campaigner Mr Shlomo Dowen
judicial review hearing took place at the High Court on 25-26 August 2009 before
Mr Justice Cranston, and then went to the Court of Appeal before Lords Justice
Rix, Etherton and Jackson on 5-6 July 2010. |
October 2010: The Court of Appeal has
broadly rejected Veolia's attempts to stop details of a major PFI project falling
into the hands of taxpayers, voters and journalists - a decision which impacts
on councils around the UK.
July 2010: The Court of Appeal has been tasked
to decide whether taxpayers and voters (including journalists) are free to view,
copy and then publicise details of Town Hall finances.
Full story and court
Waste management firm Veolia
ES Nottinghamshire's battle to keep details of a multi-million pound PFI project
out of public scrutiny is heading to the Court of Appeal.
The hearing is scheduled
for 5 July 2010.
has filed papers with the Court of Appeal.
A hearing date is awaited.
01 October 2009:
comment: The Veolia and Notts CC judicial review related to an application by
one local elector and taxpayer to view a set of accounts relating to one PFI contract
at one particular council in one financial year.
But today's judgment
has wider significance in terms of the public's 'right
to know', and for enabling local people to hold
local authorities accountable for day-to-day expenditure.
Some local authorities
have attempted to use 'commercial confidentiality' arguments to prevent electors
and taxpayers from viewing public accounts, independently of any court action.
ONB is aware that other contractors, consultants and companies - including
those engaged in PFI contracts - have been pressing local authorities to restrict
public access to contracts, deeds and invoices during the statutory inspection
Judge Cranston's ruling (summarised below) gives electors and
taxpayers a better chance of challenging obfuscating local authorities which have
a poor track record
of publicising and upholding people's rights to peruse the files.
other contractors and local councils may now expect more requests for access to
similar PFI deals elsewhere in the UK, summer 2010 onwards.
purpose of the inspection rights:|
lies in democratic accountability, rather than the policy of transparency and
openness behind modern legislation" (eg: FOI).
"The obligation to
pay local taxation through the rates was matched by the right given to rate-payers
to an involvement in the process of ensuring the money was well spent.
the audit process included an opportunity for local government electors and other
persons interested to inspect and copy the accounts and related documents."
What are the 'accounts to be audited'?
(1998) references strongly suggest that the accounts are not simply documents
to be drawn up after the financial year. Rather, they are a running record which
is kept of financial activity which never ends, although they are made up from
time to time."
Cranston J (01/10/09)
documents should be available for inspection?|
is clear that (the Act) does not confer an unqualified right of access to books,
deeds, contracts, bills, vouchers and receipts held by a body to be audited.
must be a nexus between the accounts of the Council to be audited and the book,
deed, contract, bill, voucher or receipt.
"There is no support for (Veolia's)
approach that a document only relates to the accounts if the link with the item
of account is apparent from the document itself."
much information must be disclosed?|
statutory scheme envisages that local government electors and other interested
persons may wish to consider questions such as whether sums purportedly paid under
a contract are properly due under that contract; whether payments made by the
body under audit are lawful; and whether in incurring any liability for expenditure
the body under audit has made proper arrangements for securing value for money.
local government elector would have to know the amounts actually spent, and the
basis of their calculation, to be able to ask informed questions of the auditor
about the lawfulness of an item of account relating to expenditure under the contract.
strongly suggests that the objector would have been entitled to such information."
my judgment it is entirely unsurprising that ... the law should permit a local
elector such as Mr. Dowen sight of the disputed documents in this case.
historic role of interested persons such as local government electors in participating
in the audit process would be severely diminished without such disclosure.
plain fact is that there is no duty to keep commercial confidentiality in section
15 (of the Act)."
Cranston J (01/10/09)
complete decision is available on the bailii.org (British and Irish Legal Information
Institute) website: here.
For guidance, contact Orchard News Bureau.