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Monday, 10 June 2013

TRANSEUROPA SCANDAL THE COVER UP BEGINS

One 2nd of June I wrote to the Council's Chief Executive Sue McGonigal asking to see all the Councils documents relating to the Transeuropa debt scandal. Here is the e-mail I sent to her.

Dear Dr McGonigal
 

I would like to inspect all the documents held by the Council in relation to the decision to allow Transeuropa Ferries to use Council facilities without immediate payment. I would also like to inspect all documents in relation to the monitoring of this arrangement and the repayment by Transeuropa of any monies owed to the Council. I would also like to inspect any reports or background documents held by the Council in relation to constitutional position of decisions related to this matter. Finally I would like to inspect any reports or background documents regarding  the legal position e.g. EU competition laws of the decision to allow Transeuropa Ferries to use Council facilities without immediate payment.I look forward to hearing from you on this matter.
 
Yours sincerely
 Cllr Ian Driver

On 7th June Harvey Patterson the Council's legal officer replied to me on behalf of the Chief Executive advising me that I was not entitled to see any of the  documents I had requested because he deemed them to be confidential.

I replied to Mr Patterson on 10 June challenging his decision  here is my reply





Dear Mr Patterson

Thank you for replying on behalf of the Chief Executive to my e-mail to her of 2 June 2013 requesting to see all the documents held by the Council and its Executive in relation to the Transeuropa Ferries debt of £3.4 to Thanet District Council.

I am very disappointed that you have chosen to be unnecessarily obstructive in your response. I am also disappointed that the justifications for your obstructions are ill-conceived and incorrect.

You appear to have denied me access to the information I requested about the Transeuropa Ferries debt for the following reasons

1.      Failure to provide you with a “right to know”.

2.      That as a member of the Council’s Scrutiny Panel I am only able to request information which has already been included in the OSP’s collectively agreed  programme of work

3.      Denying me information because you deem it  to be confidential under the terms of  the Schedule 12A of  the Local Government Act 1972

I will deal with each of these issues separately

Right to Know. I am a Ramsgate Councillor and the Transeuropa Ferries issue relates to the management of the Port of Ramsgate. I therefore have a “right to know” because of electoral geography.  There is a very strong public interest in the Transeuropa Ferries issues as evidenced by extensive press, TV, radio  and internet media coverage.   I have also been contacted by many constituents, non-constituents and journalists  who  wish to hear from an elected councillor how the Transeuropa situation came about and what the Council did/ is doing to protect taxpayers money. I therefore have  a “right to know” on the basis of public interest.

Scrutiny members’ right to information.  Your reply appears to suggest that Scrutiny members are only allowed to see information which relates to a programme of work collectively agreed by the OSP. If this is true then I draw your attention a statement  made in the Friday last  edition of Gazette by OSP Chairman Cllr Jo Gideon which says that it’s not a question of if the OSP investigates the Transeuropa Ferries issues, but when. I also have e-mail correspondence between myself and Cllr Gideon in which she indicates that OSP will be discussing this issue. It is clear that OSP will be looking into this matter and that therefore you should be allowing me to see all the relevant documents so that I can prepare myself for discussion at the OSP.

Notwithstanding the above, I challenge your erroneous view that that members of OSP can only ask for information related to issues which form part of a collectively agreed work programme. This is not the case.

Paragrpah 17 of The Local Authorities (Executive Arrangements) (Meetings and Access to Information) Regulations 2012 (Additional rights of access to documents for members of overview and scrutiny committees) states that

“a member of an overview and scrutiny committee of a relevant local authority is entitled to a copy of any document which—

(a)is in the possession or under the control of the executive of that authority; and.

(b)contains material relating to—.

(i)any business that has been transacted at a meeting of a decision-making body of that authority;.

(ii)any decision that has been made by an individual member of that executive in accordance with executive arrangements; or.

(iii)any decision that has been made by an officer of the authority in accordance with executive arrangements

This regulation does not require, as you incorrectly believe,  that the information requested by an OSP member must be part of a collectively agreed programme of OSP  work before it can be made available to that member. On the contrary the regulation clearly permits OSP members to review and scrutinise Executive decisions on an individual basis, presumably with the intention of referring anything they might discover to the OSP or any other appropriate body. This regulation describes precisely my actions and  I therefore insist you allow me to exercise my legal rights.

Confidentiality

Your decision not to allow me to see the documentation I have requested on the grounds of confidentiality cannot be justified. The fact that there is an extremely strong public interest in how Thanet District Council was able to  secretly allow Transeuropa Ferries to run up a debt of over £3.4 million, mitigates against keeping information about this confidential from Councillors and the public. The fact that much information about this issue is already in the public domain also mitigates against your decision to keep documents secret. The fact that TransEuropa Ferries is  in administration means that there cannot possibly be any commercial reasons to keep documents related to a non-trading company secret from elected councillors and the public.

Finally,  Paragrpah 17 of The Local Authorities (Executive Arrangements) (Meetings and Access to Information) Regulations 2012  states that an OSP  member who is reviewing or scrutinising decisions made by the Council’s Executive has the right to inspect “any such document or part of a document as contains exempt or confidential information”. Once again the regulation does not link the process of review or scrutiny with any  work programme collectively agreed by the OSP. Furthermore the Regulations  also make it clear that that the term “documents means any report or background papers taken into consideration in relation to an executive decision”. Your decision to deny me access to these documents for the reasons you have given is therefore clearly unlawful.

Please note that  The Local Authorities (Executive Arrangements) (Meetings and Access to Information) Regulations 2012 require that inform the OSP in writing why you have decided not to let me have access to the information I have requested.

I would be grateful if you could reconsider your position in light of my comments and arrange for me to inspect all the documents relating to the Transeuropa  support package including the £3.4 million.

If you are unable to comply with my request then please let me know as quickly as possible so that I can take the necessary steps to have your decision over ruled.

 Cllr Ian Driver
 

6 comments:

  1. Harvey should be sacked and prosecuted for misuse of public office: FOI allows anyone (but especially a councillor) access to any council documents.

    This is a feeble coverup. Which other councillors are supporting this whitewash through inaction?

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  2. Is this the central link to TDC's problems in general, and why they haven't been got to the bottom of?

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  3. Patterson controls TDC and props up McGonigal

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  4. While you are there Ian ask for documents relating to "due diligence" on the part of TDC officers on the "Italian" Company that is alleged by Transeuropa to be in the process of bailing them out. How much weight did officers put behind the bona fides of this Italian Bailout and what assurances were they given. As Transeuropa might even have been economical with the truth god forbid it is happening again

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  5. And all the Councillors doff their caps to him in blind obedience

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  6. If Local Councils were properly regulated in the public interest by now Patterson McGonigal and other executives involved would have had all their documents relating to this matter taken away from them and placed in the secure custody of the head of an independent inquiry, to avoid destruction and amendments.

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