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Deputy Director Protocol and
Assistant Marshal of the
Old Admiralty Building
London SW1A 2PA
Tel: 020 7008 0989
Fax: 020 7008 1024
22 July 2009
Mr Alex Skene
By e-mail: email@example.com
Dear Mr Skene,
I am writing to follow-up my letter of 10 February, in which we informed you of the result of the internal
review you had requested of our decision not to release details of the Government Hospitality wine cellar
stock list. I apologise for the length of time it has taken to respond while we have examined in detail the
public interest issues involved, as well as considering what information we might be able to release, which
would not compromise the commercial interests of both Government Hospitality and its suppliers, in the
way that your request for a redacted stock list would.
As previously explained, we are satisfied that the withheld information is covered by Section 43(2) of the
Freedom of Information (FOI) Act 2000, which covers Commercial Interests. Section 43(2) states:
"2. Information is exempt information if its disclosure under this Act would, or would be likely to,
prejudice the commercial interests of any person (including the public authority holding it)."
Use of this exemption requires the application of a public interest test. As I mentioned in my reply of 10
February, one of the main factors in favour of release of the information is the public interest in
transparency in the expenditure of public funds. Against this is the potential for the commercial interests of
the relevant public authority to be damaged, and the interests of its suppliers.
I consider that the public interest is best served by withholding the redacted version of the stock-list in the
form you have asked for because disclosure is likely to adversely affect Government Hospitality’s
relationship with its suppliers. As a public authority, GH has a duty to achieve the best possible value for
money, and I believe that the value for money arrangements we have would be compromised by the
disclosure of the stock details you have requested.
However, we have given detailed thought to what information it is possible to release without
compromising our ability to acquire wines on a good value for money basis. I attach a list of some wines
held in the cellar stock (Annex1), which outlines the range and variety of wines Government Hospitality
has purchased over a number of years. This list is illustrative only, and is not a comprehensive list of the
cellar contents. The list shows wines from various countries of origin, with a particular emphasis on wines
from the French regions, which represent nearly 80% of the overall stock of the cellar. This is because
wines from France have traditionally leant themselves well to an extended period of cellaring.
When considering your request, both we and the Government Hospitality Advisory Committee for the
Purchase of Wine (GHACPW) have taken the view that the public interest is not served by publishing a full
cellar stock list, which would clearly indicate, in many cases, from where wines have been sourced. As
previously indicated the considered view of both the GHACPW and ourselves is that this would damage
the ability of GH to achieve value for money in the future, and damage the commercial interests of GH’s
A demonstration of the level of value for money that the cellar can provide occurred recently over the
wines used at the London Summit in April. You may have seen some coverage in the media indicating that
the government used £1400 worth of wine at the 8 official dinners and lunches organised on 1 and 2 April.
We calculate that, at a conservative valuation, it would not have been possible to acquire those wines
directly in the London wine market for less than £6 000, more than four times the actual cost to the
taxpayer. For example, at least two of the wines used are not available to purchase in London now, but
were bought by Government Hospitality nearly 20 years ago when young and have been aged in the cellar
until ready for use. Government Hospitality’s policy of buying wines young and while relatively
inexpensive delivers wines of greater quality and value for money than would otherwise be possible. In
order to preserve this ability to achieve value for money, and in order to preserve the commercial interests
of our suppliers, we have released the limited list attached at Annex 1.
If you are not content with this response, you may write directly to the Information Commissioner.
The Information Commissioner can be contacted at:
The Information Commissioner’s Office,
Cheshire SK9 5AF.