Council was wrong on housing report, says watchdog
A NATIONAL watchdog says City of York Council was at fault over the way it dealt with a request for information about a ‘Get York Building’ survey.
However, the Local Government Ombudsman - giving its provisional view on a complaint by quantity surveyor Paul Cordock - says he did not suffer any significant injustice as a result.
The Press reported last autumn that the Ombudsman had performed a U-turn after initially refusing to investigate the council’s refusal to release the “confidential” results of a survey, conducted as part of its initiative to kick-start stalled developments.
Mr Cordock said then that the survey was used to inform the authority on affordable housing target reductions and claimed officers failed to comply with regulations by failing to publish the detailed findings, ostensibly because they were considered confidential.
He claimed the confidentiality excuse did not fit the appropriate criteria under the Freedom of Information Act. He complained to police, who recommended he contact the ombudsman.
The Ombudsman said in its provisional conclusions that the council had claimed there was nothing in the regulations which authorised or required disclosure of confidential information.
“The regulations state that where a report for a meeting is made available for inspection by members of the public, the background papers should also be made available,” it said.
“As the survey was relied on to a material extent in preparing the report, I consider it likely that the survey was a background paper. However, information that is confidential or exempt does not have to be made available."
He said the survey was not confidential but was exempt as it relates to the ‘financial or business affairs' of particular people.
The Ombudsman said it did not consider Mr Cordock had suffered sufficient injustice to warrant a remedy but said the council should remind staff of the circumstances that need to apply for a request for information to be treated as a request under the FOIA.
Mr Cordock does not accept he did not suffer significant injustice, due to the time he spent on the issue, and has asked the Ombudsman to think again.
Steve Waddington, council assistant housing director, said: “While we await the final decision, we welcome the Ombudsman’s provisional view that the council was correct in withholding commercially sensitive information.”
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