Sunday, 25 June 2017

Hidden contracts! the public strikes back!

On 22nd October 2015 I Simon Bacon the writer of this blog applied to Derby City Council in Derby UK via FOI / EIR requesting the following information relating to the controversial joint waste contract linked to the highly controversial Sinfin, Derby gasification incineration plant.
 Derby City Council responded on 17th December 2015 in which it disclosed some of the requested information but withheld some of the information in part 2 of the request claiming the adverse affect to the confidentiality of commercial information. What was provided was a series of documents with many redacted (blacked out pages) where the council and its supporters - Derbyshire County Council and Resource Recovery Solutions edited the documents to hide certain aspects of the documents which they did not want the public to see.
Here are a couple of examples from schedule 14 of the contract which covers the performance mechanism.

As you can see from the images when they redact information they really black it out!
I appealed this ruling and Derby City Council carried out an internal review and responded to me on December 24th 2015 that it maintained this position.

Having considered this battle of wills further I made a complaint against Derby City Council on 22nd February 2016 to the ICO - the Information Commissioner. The ICO then gave full consideration to my strongly put appeal while engaging with Derby City Council further.
The council and its fellow contract members attempted to paint a picture which included impacts on interests of Resource Recovery Solutions (RRS) siting that the withheld information included price mechanisms, volume allocations and proprietary contract tools and processes.
The council argued that RRS operated in a competitive waste market and disclosure would allow competitors to work out the deal and how it was structured resulting in a loss of its competitive edge.
The council went on to argue that the Sinfin waste sites novel nature has the capacity to become a "BEACON OF EXCELLENCE"
ENERGOS the developer of the incineration equipment being installed into this beacon of excellence had gone into administration in mid July 2016.
It was suggested that the competitors of RRS would benefit from the unique know how contained within the information and thus undermine the ability of RRS to utilise this for its own benefit damaging its commercial interests.
Other than the Derby, Glasgow and Milton Keynes projects that have moved ahead there is little evidence of other projects moving forward using such technology and in recent weeks a proposal to install similar tech on the Isle of Wight has been dropped - so not quite the beacon being suggested.

The ICO asked the council to provide a new schedule setting out in each instance the councils rationale for withholding information so that it matched the specific parts of the documents. Having been given further time to do so the council advised it had approached RRS and Derbyshire County Council but that they had declined to provide any further arguments or clarification.
The ICO in their ruling considered that the lack of clarity in the councils submissions suggests that the council either does not properly understand what the effects of disclosure would be or has struggled to meet the evidential and explanatory burden set by the exception.
 On 4th August 2016 the Information commissioner at the ICO RULED IN MY FAVOUR instructing Derby City Council to disclose the withheld information to myself as the complainant.
In early September 2016 Derby City Council was in no mood to lose their battle again a resident of Derby so instructed its legal team to appeal the ICO ruling and so work started on a legal appeal.

I as the original applicant was also in no mood to lose the battle and so registered as a party to the appeal which WAS set to be heard later in 2017 in London UK. After a delay of a number of months as two similar cases passed through the tribunal system the Derby case began to move forward.

In recent months a similar case relating to an incineration plant in Gloucestershire and its associated contract pretty much ruled in the original applicants favour - while the council in that case attempted to put a brave face on things while putting some spin on the ruling the applicants in Gloucestershire are very happy with the result of their battle. A similar ruling regarding an incineration plant contract in Worcestershire also placed pressure on Derby City Council who were then set a date by the General Regulatory Chamber who were running the appeal by Derby City Council where the council had to acknowledge if it proposed to continue with their appeal.
So two other appeals went against the local councils which forced Derby City Council into a corner over their appeal against the ICO ruling.
 Did they continue or did they rollover!

The councils legal team made the following statements when terminating the councils appeal.
"Our clients have been carrying out a fresh, detailed, careful and considered review of the disputed information with all interested parties taking into account the passage of time and developments since the initial request and the commencement of the Appeal.
Having concluded that reassessment and made recommendations accordingly, the interested parties have respectively reached agreed conclusions and advised the relevant public authority which has been able to make an updated decision on disclosure as a result.
Our clients have invested a great deal of time in reaching this decision and it is not one that has been taken lightly. Despite considering that much of the disputed information remains commercially sensitive and confidential, given the time that has now passed since the original request for information by the applicant and taking into consideration the current stage the facilities are now at, the likelihood of probable harm from disclosure of the disputed information into the public domain has reduced.
As a result our clients have asked us to confirm that the disputed information will be disclosed in its entirety. "
 Derby City Council admitted at a recent full council meeting that they and their supporters - Derbyshire County Council and RRS / SHANKS had already spent £20,000 on their fight to keep aspects of the Derby and Derbyshire waste contract secret - hidden away from the public. In a strange twist they appeared to be suggesting to the local newspaper the Derby Telegraph that they had NOT paid £20,000 to stop me from gaining a copy of the contracts as reported here
The council was simply playing with words - £20,000 was spent but the city council only paid a third of the payment!

What are they trying to hide from the residents of Derby and Derbyshire ? what is so controversial that they redact whole pages of their waste contract ?  In these times of austerity and government cuts surely the public have a right to know what their taxes are being spent on.




Tuesday, 6 June 2017

The candidates are not always greener on the other side!

As the general election approaches some of us turn to candidates that support our green values.  For some of us issues like recycling, air quality and incineration are key issues in our local communities and that could be considered a major issue for the city of Derby where recycling has collapsed, air quality is now being focused on by DEFRA and a new waste incineration plant is due to open soon, all of which is currently overseen locally by a Labour council.
The fight to improve recycling, air quality and the fight against a recycling guzzling incineration plant would you would expect be championed by the Green Party.
But this is where things become a bit strange because in the Derby North electoral district the Green Party have stood aside and have encouraged their supporters to vote for ex MP Chris Williamson
 the Labour Party candidate.
Marten Kats the Chairman of the Derbyshire Green Party was quoted on May 13th in the Derby Evening Telegraph as saying

 "the Tories and UKIP represent a regressive alliance. Its clear for this country to move forward a more equitable and sustainable future voters in Derby North should stand behind Chris Williamson a principled and strong local candidate with deep roots in the community"
When challenged on this Marten Kats stated on Twitter
"we base ourselves on national issues, this is no endorsement of Lab on a local level. Also, we can't possibly stand everywhere."
But what about the candidate the Greens are supporting by not putting forward a candidate and by their encouragement of their supporters to vote for Chris Williamson?
Chris Williamson models himself as a supporter of wildlife and in the past has campaigned against issues such as fox hunting but at the same time he has also been a supporter of the controversial Resource Recovery Solutions waste incineration plant being built in Sinfin, Derby - found in the neighbouring Derby South constituency.
A green oasis in the heart of a residential and industrial area of the city of Derby the Sinfin Tannery site was home to a broad range of wildlife which had naturalised on an ex brownfield site. To make the site even more special the site was home to the only known population of common lizards in the city. In a few short weeks the wildlife oasis shown below was history.

In mid August 2014 Chris Williamson seemed over the moon when the Green Investment Bank granted the project funding. He took to Twitter to make clear his pleasure !
Chris Williamson@ChriswMP Aug 21
Delighted Green Investment Bank's confirmed it'll finance Derby's waste treatment facility that'll reduce landfill & cut 50k tonnes of CO2

To read more about the sites destruction from back in November 2014 check out my blog post

As for the site - the wildlife haven has gone for good as construction reaches completion as can be seen from this picture taken in April 2017

So we have in Derby North a Labour candidate who has supported the destruction of a green oasis in the city of Derby which will burn large volumes of potentially recyclable materials for over two decades and which will strangle recycling in the city while driving down air quality.
This is then waved through by the Green Party in Derbyshire because somehow national issues are more important but this is the GREEN PARTY! the very party those concerned about environmental issues would lend their support to in an election and yet in Derbyshire they are encouraging their supporters in Derby North to vote for someone who supported the destruction of a green open space so that an inefficient waste incineration plant could be constructed.

But then it becomes even more confusing with the added twist that the Green Party have put forward a candidate - Ian Sleeman in Derby South - where the controversial waste incineration plant that Chris Williamson supports is being constructed.
In a report in the Derby Telegraph on Wed May 17th Mr Sleeman is quoted as saying
"I would fight to reduce the harm caused by the Sinfin incinerator"

Hold on a minute Marten Kats the Chairman of the Derbyshire Green Party is saying this is about national issues - but isn't resource management, air quality and wildlife a set of national issues?
 In an attempt to side step the issue of lending support to a Labour candidate with questionable green credentials Mr Kats plays the national issues card but isn't it all rather odd for one of his own candidates to use a local green issue in his campaign when Mr Kats is trying to deflect criticism of his parties support for a Labour Party candidate that is at odds with the stance of his Derby South Green candidate?

Politics like grass isn't always greener on the other side!