Local government transparency & information access rights

Notes to accompany the Exeter Observer community journalism training course.

Local government transparency

Access to local authority meetings and documents and reporting rights

Schedule 12A to the Local Government Act 1972

Part 1 - Descriptions of Exempt Information: England

  1. Information relating to any individual.

  2. Information which is likely to reveal the identity of an individual.

  3. Information relating to the financial or business affairs of any particular person (including the authority holding that information).

  4. Information relating to any consultations or negotiations, or contemplated consultations or negotiations, in connection with any labour relations matter arising between the authority or a Minister of the Crown and employees of, or office holders under, the authority.

  5. Information in respect of which a claim to legal professional privilege could be maintained in legal proceedings.

  6. Information which reveals that the authority proposes -

    • to give under any enactment a notice under or by virtue of which requirements are imposed on a person; or
    • to make an order or direction under any enactment.
  7. Information relating to any action taken or to be taken in connection with the prevention, investigation or prosecution of crime.

    Part 2 - Qualifications: England

  8. Information falling within paragraph 3 above is not exempt information by virtue of that paragraph if it is required to be registered under -

    • the Companies Acts (as defined in section 2 of the Companies Act 2006);
    • the Friendly Societies Act 1974;
    • the Friendly Societies Act 1992;
    • the Industrial and Provident Societies Acts 1965 [Co-operative and Community Benefit Societies and Credit Unions Acts 1965] to 1978;
    • the Building Societies Act 1986; or
    • the Charities Act 2011.
  9. Information is not exempt information if it relates to proposed development for which the local planning authority may grant itself planning permission pursuant to regulation 3 of the Town and Country Planning General Regulations 1992.

  10. Information which -

    • falls within any of paragraphs 1 to 7 above; and
    • is not prevented from being exempt by virtue of number 8 or 9 above,

is exempt information if, and so long as, in all the circumstances of the case, the public interest in maintaining the exemption outweighs the public interest in disclosing the information.

NB Local Government Transparency Code:

Commercial confidentiality

The Government has not seen any evidence that publishing details about contracts entered into by local authorities would prejudice procurement exercises or the interests of commercial organisations, or breach commercial confidentiality unless specific confidentiality clauses are included in contracts.

Local authorities should expect to publish details of contracts newly entered into – commercial confidentiality should not, in itself, be a reason for local authorities to not follow the provisions of this Code.

Therefore, local authorities should consider inserting clauses in new contracts allowing for the disclosure of data in compliance with this Code.

Exclusions and exemptions

Where information would otherwise fall within one of the exemptions from disclosure, for instance, under the Freedom of Information Act 2000, the Environmental Information Regulations 2004, the Infrastructure for Spatial Information in the European Community (INSPIRE) Regulations 2009 or fall within Schedule 12A to the Local Government Act 1972 then it is at the discretion of the local authority whether or not to rely on that exemption or publish the data.

Local authorities should start from the presumption of openness and disclosure of information, and not rely on exemptions to withhold information unless absolutely necessary.

cf.

Public accounts inspection aka audit rights

Local Audit and Accountability Act 2014 + Local Audit (Access to Documents) Act 2017:

cf.

NB the government announced a review of local authority financial reporting in July 2019

Information access rights

Freedom of Information Act 2000

Environmental Information Regulations 2014

NB covers more bodies than FoI Act with fewer exemptions

More course notes

Recent stories
Exeter City Council accounts delayed by auditors Grant Thornton

Feature  /  Democracy & governance

Exeter & East Devon council accounts delayed by Grant Thornton's "lack of staff resources"

Annual accounts for local government, including Exeter City Council, have been delayed by private sector firms failing to complete their work on time after cost-cutting government auditing reforms.

Read more ...

2019 parliamentary elections - Devon Conservative vote share change bar chart

Analysis  /  Democracy & governance

Conservative vote share varies across Devon but still blocks an Independent MP in East Devon

Labour loses vote share in every constituency, but retains Exeter and Plymouth Sutton & Devonport to leave the county position unchanged from 2017.

Read more ...

Exeter election polling station

News  /  Democracy & governance

Conservatives hold Topsham in Exeter city council by-election

A by-election held on general election day produced an unusually high turnout but a lower Conservative vote share than at the May local elections.

Read more ...

East Devon Independent Claire Wright 2019 general election candidate

Feature  /  Democracy & governance

East Devon Independent Claire Wright set to unite Remain voters in close historic two-way contest

Claire Wright is poised to make history by beating the Tories in East Devon next week. If she does it will be without thanks to the LibDems and Greens, who insisted on standing candidates against her despite the preferences of local party members and the Unite to Remain campaign.

Read more ...

Striking University of Exeter history lecturers Dr Jennifer Farrell and Dr Gemma Clark

News  /  Education & skills

University of Exeter staff strike over pay, pensions and working conditions

The Exeter branch of the University & College Union (UCU) is taking part in a national eight day strike for fair pay and pensions, including equal pay for female and BAME staff, and against casualisation and increasing workloads.

Read more ...