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Lancashire Tories stick two fingers up at the Information Commissioner

02.09.11 | Comment?

In mid-January, Liverpool Freedom of Information campaigner Julian Todd published the whole of the Liverpool Direct Joint Venture Company  contract between Liverpool City Council and BT.  This followed the Information Commissioner’s decision to order publication, and it’s the end of a two and a half year battle by Julian.

A few days later he provided his first analysis, and it certainly makes for interesting reading.  It does look as though BT has been squeezing the Council for extra profit for years, and the fact that there appears to have been very inadequate contract monitoring and management by the Council for a whole decade must be a matter of concern. In short, it looks like the concerns I raised a few months ago are backed by the newly available information.

But I don’t live in Liverpool.  I live in Lancashire, where the County Council has been negotiating a deal with BT for a similar Joint Venture Company.  This one will be called One Connect.

As my regular readers will know, the Tories at Lancashire County Council have refused to let me see any of this contract, arguing that I don’t need the information.  This is in spite of the fact that my own Council, West Lancashire Borough Council (where I lead the Labour opposition) is planning to enter into as early as May 2011, a ‘Strategic Services Partnership’ with the County Council , the delivery of which relies in more or less its entirety on the performance of One Connect.  As an added insult, an attempt has been made to fob me off with an old 9 page Cabinet report, which I’d already read and blogged about, which is little more than a sales brochure for One Connect, and has no substantial detail. 

I have now, through my persistence, been able to secure a one hour briefing by the Lancashire County Council Chief Executive to all West Lancashire councillors on 16th February, and the Chief Executive assures me that he will answer all the questions put to him.  We’ll see.  One hour for a presentation and questions from 53 councillors is not a long time.

However, in light of the Information Commissioner’s deicsion in the Liverpool case, I also wrote to the County Council in the following terms:

In light of the decision by the Information Commissioner to disclose the contact between Liverpool City Council and BT in respect of Liverpool Direct, can I ask that you now reconsider whether or not you are in a position to send me the details of the contract between Lancashire County Council and BT in respect of One Connect? Clearly, as the Information Commissioner is now likely to rule in favour of a request for disclosure anyway, it would be in the interests of proper scrutiny to ensure that the contract is made public as soon as possible.

In addition, given the Information Commissioner decision, it makes sense for members of West Lancashire Borough Council to have early access to the contract documentation before proposals for a ‘Strategic Partnership’ between the County and the Borough Council, given the fact that the nature and subsequent implementation of the One Connect contract will in all likelihood be the main factor in whether a Strategic Partnership is beneficial or injurious to the people of West Lancashire.

I received the following reply:

Any agreement with the WLDC [West Lancashire Borough/ex-District Council] will be with the County and not BT.  In addition, I would anticipate that in making any recommendation/decision WLDC will put before its members all of the necessary information.

Finally, there is a presentation to members on the 16th which enables any question to be asked of LCC/BT/WLDC.

There is, as you see no reference to the Information Commissioner’s Liverpool decision, merely a restatement of what I had already been told.

It seems that the Tories in Lancashire are simply not interested in local democracy and transparency.  I will of course be writing to the Information Commissioner, but by the time I get a reply it may be too late; West Lancashire’s residents may have already been sold down the river by the Tories.

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