Aberdeen City Council's relationship with Aberdeen Journals Ltd

Suzanne Kelly made this Freedom of Information request to Aberdeen City Council

This request has been closed to new correspondence from the public body. Contact us if you think it ought be re-opened.

The request was partially successful.

Dear Aberdeen City Council,

It has been suggested that the City Council is going to give Aberdeen Journals Limited ('AJL' hereafter, which includes Aberdeen Press & Journal newspaper and the Evening Express Newspaper) rent-free space in Marischal Square (the new build property across the road from Marischal College). My questions are as follows, based on this information being accurate:-

1. duration of free period of AJL use of Marischal Square premises
2. size (square metres) of space to be given free to AJL
3. commercial value this free use would have had per month
4. what other organisations were offered free premises in Marischal Square by Aberdeen City Council in 2015 and 2016 to date
5. which individual offers, staff and/or elected officials determined that giving this space away rent free adhered to the 'value for money' principle which should be guiding such transactions and approved the deal
6. Do any of those involved at ACC in this transaction have any listed or undeclared personal or business connections to AJL.

Yours faithfully,

Suzanne Kelly

Foi Enquiries, Aberdeen City Council

1 Attachment

Dear Ms Kelly,

 

Information enquiry reference FOI-16-1097 – Marischal Square

 

Thank you for your recent request for information, which we received on 22
August 2016.   

 

The scheduled date for our response to your request for information is on
or before 19 September 2016.

 

Please do not hesitate to contact us should you have any queries in the
meantime.

 

Yours sincerely,

 

 

Information Compliance Team
Communications and Promotion
Office of Chief Executive
Aberdeen City Council
Room 1-24
Town House
Broad Street
ABERDEEN AB10 1AQ

[1][Aberdeen City Council request email]
01224 523827/523602

Tel 03000 200 292

 

*03000 numbers are free to call if you have ‘free minutes’ included in
your mobile call plan.

Calls from BT landlines will be charged at the local call rate of 10.24p
per minute (the same as 01224s).

[2]www.aberdeencity.gov.uk

 

 

 

 

 

IMPORTANT NOTICE: This e-mail (including any attachment to it) is
confidential, protected by copyright and may be privileged. The
information contained in it should be used for its intended purposes only.
If you receive this email in error, notify the sender by reply email,
delete the received email and do not make use of, disclose or copy it.
Whilst we take reasonable precautions to ensure that our emails are free
from viruses, we cannot be responsible for any viruses transmitted with
this email and recommend that you subject any incoming email to your own
virus checking procedures. Unless related to Council business, the
opinions expressed in this email are those of the sender and they do not
necessarily constitute those of Aberdeen City Council. Unless we expressly
say otherwise in this email or its attachments, neither this email nor its
attachments create, form part of or vary any contractual or unilateral
obligation. Aberdeen City Council's incoming and outgoing email is subject
to regular monitoring.

References

Visible links
1. mailto:[Aberdeen City Council request email]
2. http://www.aberdeencity.gov.uk/

Foi Enquiries, Aberdeen City Council

1 Attachment

Dear Ms Kelly,

 

Thank you for your information request of 22 August 2016.  Aberdeen City
Council (ACC) has completed the necessary search for the information
requested.

 

It has been suggested that the City Council is going to give Aberdeen
Journals Limited ('AJL' hereafter, which includes Aberdeen Press & Journal
newspaper and the Evening Express Newspaper) rent-free space in Marischal
Square (the new build property across the road from Marischal College). My
questions are as follows, based on this information being accurate:-

 

1. duration of free period of AJL use of Marischal Square premises

A lease has not yet been concluded with Aberdeen Journals Limited

 

ACC is unable to provide you with information concerning the conditions of
the proposed lease as we consider this information exempt from disclosure.
In order to comply with its obligations under the terms of Section 16 of
the FOISA, ACC hereby gives notice that we are refusing your request under
the terms of Section 33(1)(b) – of the FOISA.

 

In making this decision ACC considered the following points:

 

The lease specified has not yet been concluded and the release of the
information at this stage would influence the negotiating position of
other parties wishing to occupy space in the development, to the obvious
detriment of the Council’s commercial interests.

 

Furthermore, disclosure of the requested information at this stage is
likely to weaken ACC’s position in a competitive environment by revealing
sensitive information of potential usefulness to competitors. ACC must
maintain good working relationships with reputable companies to enable it
to obtain value for money and so releasing commercially sensitive
information could potentially damage ACC’s reputation with such third
parties, dissuading the third parties from engaging with ACC.

 

ACC recognises that there is a public interest in being open and
transparent about its negotiations with third parties. However, ACC is of
the view that in this case, the public interest lies in withholding the
information as disclosure would prejudice ACC’s commercial relationships
and future contractual negotiations with third parties and after
considering all the circumstances of the case, the public interest is best
met by applying Section 33(1)(b) at this time.

 

2. size (square metres) of space

The area under offer to AJL extends to approximately 19,000 sq/ft.

 

3.  commercial value this free use would have had per month

The information requested is considered to be commercially confidential
and to fall within section 33(1)(b) of FOISA 2002 as noted in the response
to Question 1.

 

ACC is unable to provide you with information concerning the conditions of
the proposed lease, including the commercial value of the area in question
as we consider this information exempt from disclosure. In order to comply
with its obligations under the terms of Section 16 of the FOISA, ACC
hereby gives notice that we are refusing your request under the terms of
Section 33(1)(b) – of the FOISA.

 

4.  what other organisations were offered free premises in Marischal
Square by Aberdeen City Council in 2015 and 2016 to date

Any tenant being offered terms for any building in Aberdeen in the current
market may be offered a rent free period. However, commercial negotiations
(and who those negotiations were with) is deemed to be exempt from
release.

 

ACC is unable to provide you with information concerning what other
organisations were offered free premises in Marischal Square by Aberdeen
City Council in 2015 and 2016 to date as we consider this information
exempt from disclosure. In order to comply with its obligations under the
terms of Section 16 of the FOISA, ACC hereby gives notice that we are
refusing your request under the terms of Section 33(1)(b) – of the FOISA.

 

In making this decision ACC considered the following points:

 

Release of the information at this stage would influence the negotiating
position of parties wishing to occupy space in the development, to the
obvious detriment of the Council’s commercial interests.

 

Furthermore, disclosure of the requested information at this stage is
likely to weaken ACC’s position in a competitive environment by revealing
sensitive information of potential usefulness to competitors. ACC must
maintain good working relationships with reputable companies to enable it
to obtain value for money and so releasing commercially sensitive
information could potentially damage ACC’s reputation with such third
parties, dissuading the third parties from engaging with ACC.

 

ACC recognises that there is a public interest in being open and
transparent about its negotiations with third parties. However, ACC is of
the view that in this case, the public interest lies in withholding the
information as disclosure would prejudice ACC’s commercial relationships
and future contractual negotiations with third parties and after
considering all the circumstances of the case, the public interest is best
met by applying Section 33(1)(b) at this time.

 

5.  which individual offers, staff and/or elected officials determined
that giving this space away rent free adhered to the 'value for money'
principle which should be guiding such transactions and approved the deal

The discussions in relation to the proposals for the AJL terms have
involved the advice of external property agents, the Council’s development
partner and a number of Council officers.  The Council officers involved
were

•             Head of Finance

•             Head of Land and Property Assets

•             Asset Management Manager

 

6.  Do any of those involved at ACC in this transaction have any listed or
undeclared personal or business connections to AJL.

None of the three officers listed above have any such connection. However
undeclared connections would, by definition, not be recorded information.

 

We hope this helps with your request.

 

Yours sincerely,

 

Grant Webster

Information Compliance Officer

 

INFORMATION ABOUT THE HANDLING OF YOUR REQUEST

 

ACC handled your request for information in accordance with the provisions
of the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002. Please refer to the
attached PDF for more information about your rights under FOISA.

 

 

Information Compliance Team
Communications and Promotion
Office of Chief Executive
Aberdeen City Council
Room 1-24
Town House
Broad Street
ABERDEEN AB10 1AQ

[1][Aberdeen City Council request email]
01224 523827/523602

Tel 03000 200 292

 

*03000 numbers are free to call if you have ‘free minutes’ included in
your mobile call plan.

Calls from BT landlines will be charged at the local call rate of 10.24p
per minute (the same as 01224s).

[2]www.aberdeencity.gov.uk

 

IMPORTANT NOTICE: This e-mail (including any attachment to it) is
confidential, protected by copyright and may be privileged. The
information contained in it should be used for its intended purposes only.
If you receive this email in error, notify the sender by reply email,
delete the received email and do not make use of, disclose or copy it.
Whilst we take reasonable precautions to ensure that our emails are free
from viruses, we cannot be responsible for any viruses transmitted with
this email and recommend that you subject any incoming email to your own
virus checking procedures. Unless related to Council business, the
opinions expressed in this email are those of the sender and they do not
necessarily constitute those of Aberdeen City Council. Unless we expressly
say otherwise in this email or its attachments, neither this email nor its
attachments create, form part of or vary any contractual or unilateral
obligation. Aberdeen City Council's incoming and outgoing email is subject
to regular monitoring.

References

Visible links
1. mailto:[Aberdeen City Council request email]
2. http://www.aberdeencity.gov.uk/

Dear Aberdeen City Council,

Please pass this on to the person who conducts Freedom of Information reviews.

I am writing to request an internal review of Aberdeen City Council's handling of my FOI request 'Aberdeen City Council's relationship with Aberdeen Journals Ltd'.

I disagree with your assertions in answer to some of my questions that the information should remain confidential, not least in the face of a previous FOI of mine concerning the city's deals with Stewart Milne - at which time the Information Commissioner found that essentially it was in the public interest to know the financial details of a concluded contract/agreement that involved public property and public funds. Thank you in advance for conducting this internal review; I hope you will conclude that it is in the public interest to know the finances involved - this is a contentious project which was supposed to earn the city money, not see a situation where a newspaper - normally expected to be free of any entanglements with government in order to maintain some semblance of impartiality and integrity - will receive something of value at the taxpayer's expense.

A full history of my FOI request and all correspondence is available on the Internet at this address: https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/a...

Yours faithfully,

Suzanne Kelly

Foi Enquiries, Aberdeen City Council

Dear Ms Kelly,

 

Thank you for your email received on 19 September 2016 relating to the
information request FOI-16-1097 – Marischal Square – Aberdeen Journals.  I
would be grateful if you could confirm whether you would like Aberdeen
City Council (ACC) to undertake a review of its decision to exempt on the
basis of Section 33(1)(b) - Commercial Interests.

 

In your email, you mention that ACC should reconsider your request on the
basis of a previous decision by the Scottish Information Commissioner
where they found that it was in the public interest to know financial
details of a concluded contract/agreement.

 

It is worth reiterating at this point that our response in this case
mentioned that a lease has not yet been concluded with Aberdeen Journals
Limited. This is an ongoing negotiation and, as such, is different to the
case you refer to.

 

It is also worth mentioning that the Scottish Information Commissioner
stresses the importance of handling each request on a case-by-case basis.

 

I would also like to take this opportunity to advise you that you will
have no further opportunities to seek a review at local authority level
after your review response has been provided, as the Freedom of
Information (Scotland) Act 2002 (FOISA) allows applicants to have one
review only.  If you receive your response and disagree with any aspect of
it, you should contact the Office of the Scottish Information Commissioner
(OSIC) directly.  Please refer to the Further Information section below.

 

Yours sincerely

 

Grant Webster

Information Compliance Officer

 

FURTHER INFORMATION

 

If you are not satisfied with the outcome of your request for an internal
review, you can apply directly to the Office of the Scottish Information
Commissioner (OSIC) for a decision. Generally, OSIC cannot make a decision
unless you have been through the ACC’s review procedure. To make an
application to OSIC, please write or email OSIC at:

 

The Office of the Scottish Information Commissioner

Kinburn Castle

Doubledykes Road

St Andrews

Fife

KY16 9DS

[1]www.itspublicknowledge.info 

 

An application to OSIC must be made in writing within six months of
receipt of ACC’s Review Decision Notice.  When applying to OSIC for a
decision you should give your name and address for correspondence.  Please
note that OSIC will not be able to investigate if you have not used your
real name to make your information request. You must also specify:

 

● which request for information your requirement for review relates to

● the reason that you asked ACC to carry out a review of your request

● the reason why you are not satisfied with ACC's review outcome decision

 

The Commissioner will contact ACC and invite its comments on your
application.  Thereafter (if no settlement has meantime been reached), the
Commissioner must reach a decision within 4 months of receiving your
application, or within such other period as is reasonable.  You will
receive written notice of the outcome of the Commissioner’s decision.

 

Should you wish to appeal against the Scottish Information Commissioner's
decision, there is an appeal to the Court of Session on a point of law
only. Any such appeal must be made within 42 days after the date of the
decision has been issued.

 

 

Information Compliance Team
Communications and Promotion
Office of Chief Executive
Aberdeen City Council
Room 1-24
Town House
Broad Street
ABERDEEN AB10 1AQ

[2][Aberdeen City Council request email]
01224 523827/523602

Tel 03000 200 292

 

*03000 numbers are free to call if you have ‘free minutes’ included in
your mobile call plan.

Calls from BT landlines will be charged at the local call rate of 10.24p
per minute (the same as 01224s).

[3]www.aberdeencity.gov.uk

 

IMPORTANT NOTICE: This e-mail (including any attachment to it) is
confidential, protected by copyright and may be privileged. The
information contained in it should be used for its intended purposes only.
If you receive this email in error, notify the sender by reply email,
delete the received email and do not make use of, disclose or copy it.
Whilst we take reasonable precautions to ensure that our emails are free
from viruses, we cannot be responsible for any viruses transmitted with
this email and recommend that you subject any incoming email to your own
virus checking procedures. Unless related to Council business, the
opinions expressed in this email are those of the sender and they do not
necessarily constitute those of Aberdeen City Council. Unless we expressly
say otherwise in this email or its attachments, neither this email nor its
attachments create, form part of or vary any contractual or unilateral
obligation. Aberdeen City Council's incoming and outgoing email is subject
to regular monitoring.

References

Visible links
1. http://www.itspublicknowledge.info/
2. mailto:[Aberdeen City Council request email]
3. http://www.aberdeencity.gov.uk/

Dear Foi Enquiries,

Since writing to you I hear that the Press & Journal may be reconsidering the ethics involved and public reaction to their taking a year's free rent in an unpopular building at the taxpayers' expense. For the time being, I will consider this issue and request closed and seek no further action from you at this point. Should there be any businesses taking free space in Union Square, I will certainly write again.

Yours sincerely,

Suzanne Kelly

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