Sunday, 26 June 2011

Senior Council officer register of interests: The true story

The ICO has ruled that councils can partially disclose their register of officers' interests as part of a Freedom of Information appeal involving Bolton Council.

The decision notice, which the ICO has recently issued, relates to information request received by Bolton Council for a copy of the declarations of interests made by senior council officers. The council's register of interests records the name of the officer and any personal interests they have, such as ownership of property, family associations and membership of organisations that may conflict with their decision-making role in the authority.

The information is personal data and some entries may contain information about private lives. The council needed to consider whether disclosing it would be unfair to the officers and so exempt under section 40(2) of the Act.

The Commissioner acknowledged that releasing some of this information would intrude into their private lives and may cause them distress. However, he also found that - as the officers are responsible for decisions that affect the local community and involve spending public money - there was a case for disclosing it in the public interest. The Commissioner has therefore ruled that some of the information relating largely to officers' business interests and shareholdings should be released.

This decision shows that a blanket approach to such cases is not sufficient. Public authorities should consider the information in detail and adopt a proportionate approach to disclosure.

His decision is that the Council was correct to redact declarations provided under the following headings
  •  Address or description of land or property in which you have an interest, the nature of the interest and the use to which the land is put.
  • List any organisation with which you have Membership/association, including clubs and societies.
  • List any voluntary bodies of which you have Membership or association.
  • Please give any further information you may wish to record about your business or financial interests.
Following on from the above the Commissioner considers that disclosure of the declarations falling within the following sections would not be unfair and should be disclosed, other than for a few individual redactions which he has highlighted above:
  • Names
  • Department 
  • Section
  • Name and address and nature of additional business, or other employment.
  • Name and address of Company, firm or other body or individual of whom consultancy is undertaken and nature of the consultancy with an indication of frequency or volume of such work.
  • Name and address and nature of business of each company or other body of which you are a Director, with an indication of whether it is in a paid or unpaid capacity.
  • Name and address and nature of business of each firm with which you are a partner. 
  • Name and address and nature of business of each company in which you hold shares.
  • Name and address of the organisation to whom you are engaged on a retainer basis and nature of the retainer.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for explaining the important details