Breaking news on this happy Friday 13th: a three-person panel of the Information Rights Tribunal ruled that the University of Sussex unlawfully failed to publish various sections of its contract with Chartwells to me.
Partially dismissing the University’s desperate appeal for support, Tribunal Judge Robin Callendar-Smith said:
It is difficult to see, actually looking at the relevant information […] how disclosure of such information would be likely to prejudice the commercial interests of either Chartwells or the [University].
The Tribunal does not accept that it is likely that disclosure would result in detriment to Chartwells.
(Because if it was going to cause the lovely Chartwells company detriment that would have broken my heart.)
Wot no value for money?
Perhaps the most astounding revelation from the Tribunal’s reasons is that some of the information that the University was seeking to hush up, “appears to be duplicate to that” elsewhere in parts of the contract that have already been published.
So Sussex spent a yet-to-be-determined sum on legal fees – or should I say a ‘will-be-determined’ and ‘will-be-published’ sum on legal fees – in an attempt to prevent the disclosure of ‘commercially harmful’ information that was already public and already not harming anybody’s commercial interests.
Sadly this isn’t terribly unusual. In January 2014, the University admitted that it had not undertaken any assessment of the value-for-money of its decision to spend £27,115 on lawyers to evict a protest that had already dispersed itself.
Perhaps they’ll learn one day though.
Some juicy bits
Now find below, in the case of University of Sussex v Information Commissioner and Gabriel Webber (EA/2014/0148), the small portion of the documents in this case that I have available electronically, complementing the extensive paper bundles that will be ornamenting my bedroom for some time now:
- The Information Commissioner’s original order that the material be disclosed
- The University’s grounds of appeal (especially interesting in the sense that they contain a lot of drivular assertions, and a spectacular punny reference to catering giant Chartwells’ “appetite” for capital investment)
- The order joining me as a party to the case
- The Information Commissioner’s response
- My response (especially interesting in the sense of being sage, rational and well-thought through)
- The University’s reply
- The Tribunal’s judgment (especially interesting in the sense that it refers to me as “Mr Daniel Webber” at one point)
Grounds of appeal: in focus
Many of Sussex’s ‘grounds of appeal’ were, basically, hopeless. This is only to be expected from an organisation that, earlier this month, advertised a vacancy for a Freedom of Information Officer “able to work confidentially at all times” with – seemingly – no sense of irony.
But only now, after the Tribunal has ruled, can they be published and dissected.
For example, in paragraph 29.1.1 of their grounds of appeal, Sussex chiefs argued (This is a catering contract so surely you mean ‘Sussex chefs’? -Ed.) that…
should the information be available to other public authorities [… they] would be able to utilise this information to negotiate a better position with the suppliers of catering services.
Oh no! Heaven forbid that publication on my blog might enable taxpayer-funded authorities to save public money!
Vice-Chancellor Michael Farthing also sought to argue that the University’s…
attractiveness to prospective students [depends on them concluding] that the University is being run in a commercially efficient manner, thus maximising fees revenue for the good of the students and the academic services.
Of course, he somehow failed to see the irony of making this argument in a (we now know) futile appeal at considerable expense. But more to the point… he’s absolutely right. He’s spot on. It is vitally important for prospective students to see money being spent wisely.
The only problem is, how is that an argument for withholding information about how University money is spent? How does Farthing expect prospective students to conclude that Sussex is a commercially-efficient institution, (a) at all, frankly, but at any rate (b) if he denies said prospective students access to the relevant information?
Until next time
It’s good-night from me! Have a safe Friday 13th folks!