Council loses FOI legal challenge

A CAMPAIGNER has won a legal victory against a district council, forcing the authority to disclose confidential details about work it undertook at one of its leisure centres.

John Howard

A CAMPAIGNER has won a legal victory against a district council, forcing the authority to disclose confidential details about work it undertook at one of its leisure centres.

The Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) has ordered Mid Suffolk District Council to release a contract with a commercial partner, including the financial details, about repairs and maintenance at Mid Suffolk Leisure Centre, in Stowmarket.

Ray Cattermole, a former 1950s county swimming champion from Earl Stonham, near Stowmarket, who has spent years working with the disabled and encouraging them to be more active, said he was pleased with the ruling.


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Mr Cattermole, who has represented both the town and the county in swimming competitions in his younger days, said he had felt the disabled were being short-changed.

The 70-year-old, a retired draughtsman, said that £68,500 had been earmarked to make the centre comply with the Disability Discrimination Act, but he feared that funds were in fact being used to prepare the complex for privatisation.

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Mid Suffolk District Council has 35 days to release the information and the commissioner dismissed the possibility that releasing the contract would be likely to prejudice the commercial interests of the council or the contractor.

The council provided a number of reasons against the release of the information, including that disclosure would breach confidentiality, set a precedent and may prevent it from obtaining the best possible price for future work or projects.

The contract in question dates back to 2004 and the Assistant Commissioner Anne Jones also criticised the authority for taking several months to deal with the complainant's request for an internal review.

A spokeswoman for the ICO said: “The council repeatedly refused to provide material in a timely manner.

“We have now formally reminded the council of its obligations under the Freedom of Information Act.”

A spokeswoman for Mid Suffolk District Council said: “We have been so transparent in the way we deal with freedom of information so this has come as a surprise to us. We are inclined to appeal, and are taking advice.”

Tim Passmore, Conservative leader of the district council, dismissed any suggestion that money to make the centre suitable for the disabled was being used to make the centre more geared towards privatisation.

He said: “This is complete nonsense, in my view. And it was not being privatised anyway, it's run by a private company but all policy is agreed with the council and we retain the freehold.

“We have had numerous comments at council meetings from Mr Cattermole, which have always been answered. The centre has an excellent reputation, no-one else has found fault.”

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