Chief Executives Investigation Into Hitesh Patel's Directorship of Digital City (UK) Ltd

Geoff Reid made this Freedom of Information request to Swindon Borough 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 refused by Swindon Borough Council.

FOI Subject In Full:

Investigation carried out or commissioned by the Chief Executive (Gavin Jones) and/or the Deputy Chief Executive (Celia Carrington)into the Directorship of Digital City (UK) Ltd held by Swindon Borough Council Director of Business Transformation Mr Hitesh Kumar Patel.

Dear Swindon Borough Council,

Companies House records indicate that Swindon Borough Council Director of Business Transformation, Mr Hitesh Kumar Patel, became a Director of Digital City (UK) Ltd on the 15th of September 2009.

I can find no public record in existence which indicates Mr Patel disclosed his Directorship to Swindon Borough Council before it entered into a 'public/private partnership with Digital City (UK) Ltd despite Mr Patel co-authoring a 'cabinet briefing' note on the 12th of October 2009 concerning the provision of a Loan to Digital City (UK,) Limited for the Purpose of Establishing Wi Fi Network Across the Borough of Swindon.

On the 10th of March 2010, at a Swindon Borough Council Cabinet meeting Councillor Peter Greenhalgh asked Mr Patel to confirm that he was a Director of Digital City (UK) Ltd. Mt Patel's Directorship of Digital City (UK) Ltd was openly denied despite him having recently updated his 'Linked-In' profile to say:

"Board Director
Digital City (UK) Ltd (Wireless industry)
November 2009 — Present (5 months"

On the 12th of March 2010, (two days after his directorship was publicly denied) a 'TM01' form, (termination of Directorship) was electronically submitted to Companies House terminating Mr Patel's directorship at Digital City (UK)Ltd.

I understand the Chief Executive of Swindon Borough Council, Gavin Jones, immediately ordered that a detailed report be completed which would set out clearly, and accurately a chronology of events that addressed, but was not limited to, the following points:

1.The issue of when Mr Patel became a Director of Digital City.

2. Why Swindon Borough Councillors were misadvised that Hitesh Patel was not a Director of Digital City (UK) Ltd when the public records and Patel's own Linked-In profile clearly show that he was, and that he knew that he was.

3. That Hitesh Patel was a Director of Digital City ahead of the formal decision taken by Swindon Borough Council to lend £450,000 to the company.

4. Whether Mr Patel's Directorship of Digital City (UK) Ltd compromised his position as 'prime negotiator' with Digital City (UK) Ltd,(with Patel being on Swindon Borough Council's side).

5. Whether Mr Patel's undiclosed Directorship at Digital City (UK) Ltd effectively pre-assumed the future decision making of the Swindon Borough Council Cabinet members regarding the loan of £450,000 to the company and the council becoming part-owners of the company.

Please supply a copy of the report.

Yours faithfully,

Geoff Reid

www.talkswindon.org

Customer Services, Swindon Borough Council

Thank you for your email which has been forwarded to the FOI office for response.

Kind regards

Customer Services
Swindon Borough Council
Wat Tyler House
Swindon SN1 2JG
Phone: 01793 445500

E-mail: [Swindon Borough Council request email]
Website: www.swindon.gov.uk

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Geoff Reid left an annotation ()

A forum discussion topic is available here:

http://www.talkswindon.org/index.php?top...

Readers are invited to participate :)

Sharon Druett, Swindon Borough Council

Dear Mr Reid ,

Ref FOI101000229747 Freedom of Information Request

Thank you for your attached request received in our office on 16 August
2010.

Under the terms of the Freedom of Information Act 2000, the Council has a
duty to respond `promptly' or no later than 20 working days, which in this
case is 13 September 2010.

If you have any queries about this letter please contact me as detailed,
quoting the above reference number.

Yours sincerely,

Sharon Druett

Sharon Druett ([email address])
Freedom of Information Officer
Law and Democratic Services
Swindon Borough Council
Tel: 01793 463377
Fax: 01793 463405
Web: [1]www.swindon.gov.uk

Please consider the environment before printing this email.

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Sharon Druett, Swindon Borough Council

Dear Mr Reid

Ref FOI101000229747 Freedom of Information Request

The Council has a duty to respond promptly or no later than 20 working
days, which in this case is today. However, as in this case, if a
qualified exemption applies to the information and the public interest
test is engaged, the Act allows the time for the response to be longer
than 20 days, and the information must be supplied within what is
considered a `reasonable' time scale considering the circumstances of the
case.

We are currently considering your request for the report under Section 36
Freedom of Information Act 2000 exemption.

Prejudice to effective conduct of public affairs :

(2) Information to which this section applies is exempt information if, in
the reasonable opinion of a qualified person, disclosure of the
information under this Act....
(b) would, or would be likely to, inhibit -

i. the free and frank provision of advice, or

(ii) the free and frank exchange of views for the purpose of
deliberation, or
(c) would otherwise prejudice, or would be likely otherwise
to prejudice, the effective conduct of public affairs

In the meantime I have attached a link to the Special Cabinet Report dated
31 March 2010. The report set out the position relating to the Group
Director Business Transformation's involvement in the Wi-Fi Project and is
available via the Council's website.

[1]http://ww5.swindon.gov.uk/moderngov/Publ...

We anticipate we will be able to come to a full conclusion no later than
27 September 2010.

If you have any queries about this matter please contact me. Please
remember to quote the reference number above in all future communications.

Yours Sincerely,

Sharon Druett

Sharon Druett ([email address])
Freedom of Information Officer
Law and Democratic Services
Swindon Borough Council
Tel: 01793 463377
Fax: 01793 463405
Web: [2]www.swindon.gov.uk

Please consider the environment before printing this email.

______________________________________________
From: Sharon Druett
Sent: 20 August 2010 19:24
To: '[FOI #44773 email]'
Subject: FOI101000229747 Freedom of Information Request

Dear Mr Reid ,

Ref FOI101000229747 Freedom of Information Request

Thank you for your attached request received in our office on 16 August
2010.

Under the terms of the Freedom of Information Act 2000, the Council has a
duty to respond `promptly' or no later than 20 working days, which in this
case is 13 September 2010.

If you have any queries about this letter please contact me as detailed,
quoting the above reference number.

Yours sincerely,

Sharon Druett

Sharon Druett ([email address])
Freedom of Information Officer
Law and Democratic Services
Swindon Borough Council
Tel: 01793 463377
Fax: 01793 463405
Web: [3]www.swindon.gov.uk

Please consider the environment before printing this email.

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Dear Sharon Druett,

Thank you for including the link to the Special Cabinet Report dated 31 March 2010. Although the general public are well aware of the Special Cabinet report it does serve to illustrate why refusing my request using a Section 36 Freedom of Information Act 2000 exemption would be an inappropriate use of that exemption.

I note that the Chief Executive of Swindon Borough Council instructed his deputy, Celia Carrington to investigate Hitesh Patel within the following, closely defined parameters:

6.2 The scope of the investigation was:

• To investigate the circumstances in which Hitesh Patel formally became a director of Digital City (UK) Limited;

• Whether he, or anyone else, was aware that this had happened;

• Why he named himself as a Director of Digital City (UK) Limited on his professional network website;

• Whether he deliberately misled Cabinet on 10 March, by not revealing that he was already formally a director.

The council is considering refusing my request by using a 'prejudice-based exemption'.

To correctly refuse my request using a prejudice-based exemption Swindon Borough Council must first show that a disclosure of information would, or would be likely to, cause the harm identified in the exemption - (in this case: 'Prejudice to effective conduct of public affairs'.

If that prejudice can be established, the exemption may be engaged but Swindon Borough Council must then go on to apply the public interest test.

As it is my understanding that the scope of the Chief Executives investigation was deliberately narrow, focussing solely on the conduct of Hitesh Patel, so that future publication of the report would not, in fact, prejudice the future conduct of public affairs.

Claiming a section 36 exemption would be inappropriate and would, in my opinion, further harm the publics willingness to trust that Swindon Borough Council conducts its public affairs openly, honestly and transparently.

I am concerned that Senior Officers at Swindon Borough Council wish to prevent publication of the Chief Executives Investigation into Hitesh Patel's Directorship of Digital City (UK) Ltd because publication will further highlight the many significant disparities between Swindon Borough Council's 'version' of events and facts already available in public records.

In short, I believe Officers of the Council are concerned that the Chief Executives report will not stand up to the robust scrutiny which continues to be applied to the Swindon WiFi project by the general public, and therefore seek secrecy rather than transparency.

However, I hope to be pleasantly surprised.

Yours sincerely,

Geoff Reid

Sharon Druett, Swindon Borough Council

1 Attachment

Dear Mr Reid

Re:FOI101000229747 Freedom of Information Request

I enclose for your attention the Refusal Notice concerning your attached request

If you are unhappy with the service you have received in relation to your request and wish to make a complaint or request a review of our decision you should contact:

Customer Services
Civic Offices
Euclid Street
Swindon
Website: www.[Swindon Borough Council request email]

The complaints/review procedure involves a full review and an examination of all the information by the Council.

If you are not content with the outcome of our conclusion, you may apply directly to the Information Commissioner's Office for a decision, before contacting the Council. Generally, the ICO cannot make a decision unless you have exhausted the Council's own complaints procedure.

The Information Officer can be contacted at:

The Information Commissioner's Office,
Wycliffe House
Water Lane
Wilmslow
Cheshire
SK9 5AF

Email: [email address]
Tel: 01625 545700 (ask for Freedom of Information)

If you require any further information concerning this matter, please contact me as detailed, quoting the above reference number in any future communications.

If you require any further information concerning this matter please contact me quoting the reference number at the top of the of the letter.

Yours sincerely

Sharon Druett

Sharon Druett ([email address])
Freedom of Information Officer
Law and Democratic Services
Swindon Borough Council
Tel: 01793 463377
Fax: 01793 463405
Web: www.swindon.gov.uk

Please consider the environment before printing this email.

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Request for internal review.

Dear Swindon Borough Council,

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

I am writing to request an internal review of my FOI request: 'Chief Executives Investigation Into Hitesh Patel's Directorship of Digital City (UK) Ltd'.

There exists a high, and continuing, level of public interest in the Public/Private partnership which exists between Swindon Borough Council and Digital City (UK) Ltd and, as the corporate board and elected members of Swindon Borough Council are well aware, this partnership was the subject of a Parliamentary adjournment debate.

Serious questions remain unanswered as to how £450,000 of taxpayer’s money came to be lent by Swindon Borough Council to a company which the Councils Director of Business Transformation, (Hitesh Patel), was negotiating with on behalf of Swindon Borough Council, but of which he was also already a Director.

Other directors and executives of the Council indicated that Hitesh Patel had not disclosed his Digital City Directorship to them, prior to, or until several months after, the loan had been ‘drawn down’ by Digital City (UK) Ltd and Swindon Borough Council became a significant shareholder in the company.

However, I possess evidence which leads me to believe that:

1. Other directors and executives of the Council were aware of Hitesh Patel’s Digital City directorship and that information confirming or further denying, this prior knowledge is being deliberately withheld behind inappropriately applied Freedom of information exemptions to unreasonably protect individuals and/or the administration from reasonable, lawful and independent inspection of their actions.

2. Hitesh Patel’s claim that he ‘did not know’ he was a director of Digital City (UK) Ltd until his directorship of that company was subsequently disclosed by a member of the public will not stand up to open, transparent and independent scrutiny when the Chief Executives report into Patel’s actions is finally released as a result of this freedom of information request.

Until the requested information is transparently and independently scrutinised it is impossible for members of the public to ascertain whether criminal acts and a conspiracy to conceal such acts exist, or that the withholding of such information is being done merely to prevent the public learning further details of fiscal and legal incompetency which may exist at the highest levels of Swindon Borough Council than are currently available in the public domain.

I believe it was inappropriate for Swindon Borough Council’s Director of Law & Democratic Services to be the officer who considered and refused this information request because, on the 12th of October 2009, Mr Taylor had co-authored a cabinet member briefing note with Hitesh Patel, (partially quoted below), which authorised Patel, at some future date, to enter Swindon Borough Council into a partnership with Digital City (UK) Ltd:

“That the Group Director Business Transformation will, on behalf of Swindon
Borough Council, enter into a joint venture partnership underpinned by a
Shareholders' Agreement with aQovia UK Limited and Avidity Consulting
Limited to form Digital City UK Limited,

I believe that, on the balance of probabilities, Swindon Borough Council’s Director of Law & Democratic Services and/or staff in his office would, more likely than not, have been aware that Hitesh Patel’s was already a director of Digital City (UK) Ltd before the cabinet member briefing note was published and presented to cabinet members.

At a cabinet meeting held in March 2010, Patel was challenged on the issue of his Digital City directorship by Councillor Peter Greenhalgh - Cabinet member for Transport. Stephen Taylor publicly denied, (on Patel’s behalf although Patel was also present at the meeting), that Patel was a director of Digital City.

Although Cllr Greenhalgh’s challenge, and Stephen Taylors denial, are well remembered and documented elsewhere, the minutes of that particular cabinet meeting do not appear to record the event. This is one of several instances where the discussion of subjects related to, but not limited to, this aspect of the public/private partnership between Swindon Borough Council and Digital City (UK) Ltd have been omitted from the published minutes of council meetings.

The public trust in Swindon Borough Council and its ‘WiFi’ project has been severely damaged by a belief, whether genuine or perceived, that a culture of denial and concealment has been employed by elected members and council officers to frustrate public interest in, and scrutiny of the probity and competency of officers and members involved in creating the Swindon Borough Council/Digital City partnership.

I also note with interest that Councillor Derique Montaut, leader of the Labour Group of Borough Councillors has stated that the Chief executives report into Hitesh Patel’s Directorship at Digital City (UK) Ltd should not remain secret, saying:

“I was asked by the Chief Executive not to publicly disclose any information that was in the drafted report, if I decided to read it. I did not agree that, if I read this report, I should keep the contents of it secret. Therefore I decided not to read the report.”

I infer from Councillor Montaut’s that he did not wish to become implicated in an orchestrated attempt to conceal facts which, in his opinion, should have been made public.

I also note that despite Digital City failing to meet progress measures set by the council, and the cabinet's subsequent relaxation of those progress measures to such a low threshhold that they were described in a cabinet meeting as "redefining failure as success", the ‘WiFi’ project is now many months behind schedule if not completely stalled.

The initial installation phase in the town of Highworth remains unfinished and work in Swindon Town did not begin when promised. The likelihood of the £450,000 loan being repaid in full and on-time by Digital City (UK) Ltd seems remote and the projected £700,000 profit by the end of year two, (December 2011), seems unlikely to be realised by that date, if ever.

With the above in mind I believe it is entirely fair, appropriate and in the public interest that the taxpaying electorate of Swindon see the Chief Executives report in full, and I respectfully invite Swindon Borough Council to take this final opportunity to review my freedom of information request and supply the requested information without undue delay.

A full history of my FOI request and all correspondence is available on the Internet at this address:

http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/ch...

Yours faithfully,

Geoff Reid

Customer Services, Swindon Borough Council

Thank you for your email which has been forwarded to the FoI office for response.

Kind regards

Customer Services
Swindon Borough Council
Wat Tyler House
Swindon SN1 2JG
Phone: 01793 445500

E-mail: [Swindon Borough Council request email]
Website: www.swindon.gov.uk

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Senga Van Kleef, Swindon Borough Council

[Subject only] FW: RE: Internal review of Freedom of Information request - Chief Executives Investigation Into Hitesh Patel's Directorship of Digital City (UK) Ltd

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Geoff Reid left an annotation ()

From: Senga Van Kleef
Sent: 28 October 2010 16:20
To: 'Geoff Reid'
Subject: RE: Internal review of Freedom of Information request - Chief
Executives Investigation Into Hitesh Patel's Directorship of Digital City
(UK) Ltd

Dear Mr Reid,

FOI Ref: 101000229747

I have been asked by the Monitoring Officer to review the decision that
was taken to withhold the internal management report into the
investigation into the directorship of WIFI.

I note that you considered that it was inappropriate for the Monitoring
Officer to consider this matter in the first place as he co-authored the
relevant Briefing Note. Your Freedom of Information request, however, was
for disclosure of the subsequent internal management report which related
to Mr Patel's involvement in this matter and that report was written by
the Deputy Chief Executive, not by the Monitoring Officer. In any event,
it is a statutory requirement that the Monitoring Officer considers
whether an exemption can be applied under s36 of the Freedom of
Information Act 2000. I do not, therefore, believe that the Monitoring
Officer had any option other than to fulfil his statutory duty.

The purpose of the internal management report was to ascertain whether
there were any disciplinary actions required against an officer of the
Council and as such was never intended to be made public. I agree with the
Monitoring Officer's view that if it were known that this document would
be made publicly available, it would inhibit and restrain the freedom by
which opinions may be expressed and recorded which would damage the
investigation process.

The internal management report concluded that no disciplinary action
should be taken against Hitesh Patel, Group Director Business
Transformation. A public report was made to the Special Cabinet meeting
on 31st March 2010 that did, in my opinion, give a clear indication of the
events surrounding this matter and the outcome of the internal
investigation. Copies of that report and the statements that were made are
available on the Council's website.

On balance, my view is that there should be the space to consider these
matters and there would be a prejudicial effect on how these
investigations are carried out if officers knew their opinions would be
made available to the public. If we create a culture where officers are
fearful of the consequences of being candid in case it may be taken out of
context, our ability to learn from these investigations will, in my
opinion, be diminished. I consider that nothing would be gained from
making the internal management report public other than to make officers
less candid in their representations in the future.

In conclusion, therefore, I agree with the Monitoring Officer's opinion
that this particular report should remain confidential and should not be
released into the public domain.

If you are unhappy with this conclusion you may apply directly to the
Information Commissioner's Office as you have you have exhausted the
Council's own complaints procedure.

The Information Officer can be contacted at:

The Information Commissioner's Office,

Wycliffe House

Water Lane

Wilmslow

Cheshire

SK9 5AF

Email: [email address]

Tel: 01625 545700 (ask for Freedom of Information)

If you require any further information concerning this matter, please
contact me as detailed, quoting the above reference number in any future
communications.

Gavin Jones

Chief Executive

Please consider the environment before printing this email

Senga van Kleef
Executive Assistant to the Chief Executive
Gavin Jones
Tel: 01793 463008
email: [email address]
Civic Offices
Euclid Street,
Swindon,
SN1 2JH