Local government transparency & information access rights

Notes to accompany Exeter Observer community journalism courses.

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

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