Leisure centre business case stays secret

This is such an unsexy story that I don’t expect the media to pick it up; but it’s worth putting on record to close this particular loop.

NEWS RELEASE                           

26 July 2018                              

St Sidwell’s Point business case stays secret

The long-running attempt by Exeter resident Peter Cleasby to force Exeter City Council to release the business case for the St Sidwell’s point leisure centre to public scrutiny has ended unsatisfactorily for both parties.

An Information Tribunal on 13 March 2017 heard an appeal from the City Council against a decision by the Information Commissioner that most of the business case should be made public under the Freedom of Information Act.  This followed a complaint by Mr Cleasby to the Commissioner in February 2016 that the Council’s refusal to release the information was in breach of the Act.  The Council argued that much of the material was commercially sensitive and disclosure would make it more difficult to negotiate an advantageous deal with contractors.

After the hearing, Peter Cleasby held discussions over several months with City Council officers, led by former Deputy Chief Executive Mark Parkinson, about alternative ways forward.  These culminated in an agreement that Mr Cleasby would not press his case further in the public interest and the Council in turn gave undertakings about future publication which would allow residents to judge the success or failure of the leisure centre project.  The Information Commissioner’s decision against the Council remains in place, though it will be not enforced.  The Tribunal judge approved the compromise on 6 July 2018.

Peter Cleasby commented:

“This has been a long-drawn out process.  I cannot now see any benefit in risking putting the Council’s negotiators at a disadvantage with contractors by continuing to insist on disclosure of what is by now an out-of-date business case.  Councillors have made it very clear that this project will proceed, despite ever-rising costs, and there seems little point in spending more public money on legal fees.  The Information Commissioner’s decision requiring publication remains on the table and could be reactivated in the future if circumstances justify that.

“However, the Council have conceded some important points.

“First, once the centre is operational they will provide an annual summary of the income forecast in the business case compared with income actually generated.

“Second, they will release as much information as they can about the building costs once the construction contract has been completed.

“Third, they have provided an old and redacted, but still interesting, copy of the project risk register, although they declined to put a regularly updated version of this on the Council website.  The copy given to me, without any restriction on further transmission, is available on my website at www.agreeninexeter.com/documents.

“No one is fully satisfied with this outcome, but I believe it to be the best available.  I would like to put on record the fact that Mark Parkinson and the Council’s legal officers were always courteous, helpful and positive in trying to find solutions to a genuinely difficult issue.”

[ends]

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