Grant Funding Agreement between Post Office Ltd and NFSP Ltd

Mark Baker made this Freedom of Information request to Post Office Limited

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 successful.

Dear Post Office Limited,

Would you please supply me with a copy of the Grant Funding Agreement that you have signed with the company NFSP Ltd.

Yours faithfully,

Mark Baker

FOIA, Post Office Limited

2 Attachments

Dear Mr Baker,

 

Please find an acknowledgement attached to your Freedom of Information
request.

 

Regards,

 

Martin Humphreys
Information Rights Team
1^st Floor

Finsbury Dials

20 Finsbury Street

London

EC2Y 9AQ

Telephone 033 3665 3951

 

 

 

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FOIA, Post Office Limited

2 Attachments

Dear Mr Baker,

 

Please find an update attached to your Freedom of Information request.

 

Regards,

 

Martin Humphreys
Information Rights Team
1^st Floor

Finsbury Dials

20 Finsbury Street

London

EC2Y 9AQ

Telephone 033 3665 3951

 

 

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Dear Mr Humphries
Thank you for your response. The Post Office is a public body and as such is bound by the same protocols of openness and transparency as any other Public Body as detailed in the Cabinet Office guidance on this subject.
You have admitted that the Post Office does have a Grant funding agreement with the NFSP Ltd.
There can be nothing "commercial" about such an arrangement as if there were this would constitute a contract and would be subject to the normal procurement rules and indeed your own company procurement policy. Therefore you are mistaken in quoting Sec 43 (2) of the Freedom of Information Act as no commercial interests could be harmed by the disclosure of a simple grant funding arrangement.

Public Authority Grants are very much in the public interest to know what the purpose of the grant is for with regards to the body giving the grant and what the receiver of the grant is required to do for the money. It is important that there is transparency concerning the grant so as to ensure that no one uses a grant funding arrangement to mask what is in fact a commercial contract for the purposes of avoiding EU procurement rules and tax and VAT avoidance. For this reason other public bodies are more than happy to publish details of the grants they issue. There is detailed Cabinet Office guidance on the use of Public Authority grants.

It would be in your interests to demonstrate that you are complying with this guidance.

Given the above I do not believe you have any cause to withhold this information as no section within the Act supports you to do so.

I would like a copy of the information I have requested sent without any further delay.

Yours sincerely,

Mark Baker

Dear Mr Humphreys

I responded to your follow up email of the 10th June and you have not reacted to my response that challenged the basis of your initial inclination to refuse the information I asked for.

I would now like to request an internal review of this decision. Unless of course you would like to supply me with the information I have asked for without any further delay.

Yours sincerely,

Mark Baker

FOIA, Post Office Limited

Dear Mr Baker,

Post Office have not yet made a decision in respect of the information you are seeking and are currently considering the public interest as it applies to the commercial interests exemption.

Therefore we will write to you once a decision has been reached whether to the release the information.

Regards,

Martin Humphreys
Information Rights Team

1st Floor
Finsbury Dials
20 Finsbury Street
London
EC2Y 9AQ
Telephone 033 3665 3951

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Dear Humphreys
Thank you for your e-mail response dated 20th June 2016.
You have completely ignored the points I raised in my e-mail to you dated 11th June 2016. I challenged your position on relying on Sec 43 (2) of the Freedom of Information Act and you have failed to refute this challenge. You cannot have any commercial reasons to withhold this information and you are wrong to use this section as an excuse to delay supplying the information I have asked for. This is a sum of money paid as a Grant issued by a Public Authority and as such the terms of the grant should be available to the public.
Sec 43 (2) relates to commercial contracts between two parties are you saying that this is in fact a contract to provide services and not a grant?
You leave me no choice but to take this matter up directly with the Information Commissioner as you are not complying with the terms or the spirit of the Freedom of Information Act.

Yours sincerely,

Mark Baker

FOIA, Post Office Limited

2 Attachments

Dear Mr Baker,

 

Please find the response attached to your Freedom of Information request.

 

Regards,

 

Martin Humphreys
Information Rights Team
1^st Floor

Finsbury Dials

20 Finsbury Street

London

EC2Y 9AQ

Telephone 033 3665 3951

 

 

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Dear Mr Humphries

Thank you for your reply dated 11th July 2016.

In your response dated 20th June 2016 you relied on Sec 43 (2) as your reason to withhold the information I had asked for. Now you have changed your mind and have introduced another reason which you should have given on the 20th June 2016. You are now relying on Sec 22.

You appear to be referring to a different document to which I asked for. You are referring to a Grant Funding Agreement that you intend to publish in the future and are claiming exemption on the basis of Sec 22 which provides for such an exemption.

I had asked for sight of the Grant Funding Agreement that is in force right now between the Post Office and NFSP Ltd.
This agreement has been in force for some time and indeed funding has been supplied under this agreement, this is well documented by the NFSP themselves.
It is this agreement I would like sight of and it clearly cannot be covered by the Sec 22 exemption as that will only apply to the seemingly new agreement that you clearly intend to publish in due course.

Now we have established that there are indeed two Grant Funding Agreements would you please forward to me the current one which was the one I requested in the first instance, and would you please state on what date was the decision made to publish, in the future, this new Grant Funding Agreement ?

I would also like to request an internal review of your decision to invoke Sec 22 with regard to claiming an exemption on public interest grounds not to reveal the second Grant Funding Agreement that you intend to publicly publish in the future.

Yours sincerely,

Mark Baker

FOIA, Post Office Limited

2 Attachments

Dear Mr Baker,

 

Please find the acknowledgement attached to your Internal Review request.

 

Reagrds,

 

Kerry Moodie
Information Rights Manager
1^st Floor

Finsbury Dials
20 Finsbury Street

London EC2Y 9AQ

033 3665 3951

 

 

 

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Dear Mr Humphreys

Please may I have an answer to my request for sight of the current and existing grant funding agreement that I referred to in my last e-mail to you dated 12th July.
I note that you have acknowledged that an internal review is currently considering if I can have advanced sight of the new grant funding arrangements, but I see no reason and nor have you given one as to why I cannot be sent a copy of the current one.

Yours sincerely,

Mark Baker

FOIA, Post Office Limited

Dear Mr Baker,

We only have one agreement in existence, and have not implied that there were two, we will contact you again once the Internal Review is complete.

Regards,

Kerry Moodie
Information Rights Manager

1st Floor
Finsbury Dials
20 Finsbury Street
London EC2Y 9AQ
033 3665 3951

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Dear Kerry Moodie
Thank you for your prompt response. I am afraid that the Post Office has very much implied there are two funding schemes in place. I will provide you the evidence proving this very shortly but before I do I have asked for the date when the decision was made to place the grant funding agreement in the public domain.
As you are claiming a Sec 22 exemption on publishing something that you intend to publish in the future you are by virtue of that exemption required to disclose the date on which the decision was taken to eventually publish said agreement. Would you please let me know what that date was.

Yours sincerely,

Mark Baker

FOIA, Post Office Limited

Dear Mr Baker,

Thank you for your further enquiry, we will respond to the remainder of your request following the Internal Review.

Regards,

Kerry Moodie
Information Rights Manager

1st Floor
Finsbury Dials
20 Finsbury Street
London EC2Y 9AQ
033 3665 3951

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Dear Kerry Moody

Thank you for your reply.
Guidance issued by the Information Commissioner for Public Authorities seeking to rely on a Sec 22 exemption should as a matter of best practice make it clear to information seekers the date when the decision was taken to publish the information concerned so as to demonstrate that this decision pre dates the request for the information and also to give the information seeker the intended date of publication or an anticipated date of publication.
Neither of which needs to wait for the outcome of any internal review.

In the spirit of openness and transparency I would like to know those dates right away please.

Returning to your previous comments that the Post Office has not implied that there are two separate grant funding agreements, I challenged that position and undertook to supply you with evidence.

On the 16th June 2016 Nick Beal Head of Agents Development and Remuneration in responding on behalf of the Chairman of the Board Tim Parker to an enquiry about Post Office funded free membership of the NFSP Ltd stated that as of 1st October 2015 the Post Office invited certain groups of Postmasters to apply for free membership of the NFSP which would be fully funded by the Post Office under a Grant Funding arrangement that existed between the Post Office and the NFSP. Further to this Mr Beal stated that on the 1st April 2016 this grant funded free membership was extended to all Postmasters who were existing NFSP members.

This funding agreement was also the subject of an announcement from the NFSP themselves in their monthly magazine where the CEO of the NFSP was proud to announce that he attended a small ceremony along with the CEO of the Post Office to sign off the agreement that provided this free membership.

There clearly is two agreements being used to provide Grant Funding to the NFSP.

I quote from the letter sent to me by Mr Beal “As I advised in my response to your e mail to Tim Parker, the future mechanism for the extension of free membership is currently under development. “

I had asked Mr Beal why I was not included in the free membership scheme that started in 2015. His response above clearly implies that he is developing a new scheme that will encompass everyone. It is this scheme that I believe you have invoked a Section 22 exemption over leaving my request for sight of the scheme that preceded this new scheme as being valid and not obstructed by any exemption within the Freedom of Information Act.

Therefore would you please supply the Grant Funding Agreement between Post Office and the NFSP that commenced in 2015 and which will be replaced by the new one which you intend to publish in due course.

Yours sincerely,

Mark Baker

FOIA, Post Office Limited

2 Attachments

Dear Mr Baker,

 

Please find an update attached to your Internal Review request.

 

Regards,

 

Kerry Moodie
Information Rights Manager
1^st Floor

Finsbury Dials
20 Finsbury Street

London EC2Y 9AQ

033 3665 3951

 

 

 

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Dear Kerrie Moodie

Thank you for your e-mail dated 10th August 2016. Your decision to take more time to conduct your internal review is unacceptable. Your admission that there is only one Grant Funding Agreement in existence which has been in existence and operational for over 8 months and is intended for publication anyway stretches creditability that a Sec 22 exemption applies. It appears to me that you are engaging in inappropriate stalling tactics.

Therefore I have made today, a formal complaint to the Information Commissioner regarding your behaviour.

No doubt you will be hearing from his office in due course.

Yours sincerely,

Mark Baker

FOIA, Post Office Limited

2 Attachments

Dear Mr Baker,

 

Please find the response attached to your Internal Review request.

 

Regards,

 

Kerry Moodie
Information Rights Manager
1^st Floor

Finsbury Dials
20 Finsbury Street

London EC2Y 9AQ

033 3665 3951

 

 

 

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Dear Ms Moodie

Thank you for your response informing me of the outcome of the internal review the Post Office carried out into my request for information.

You state that the Post Office and the NFSP both intended for the “Grant Agreement” to be published at a future date and that this decision was taken prior to my request being made and you have offered evidence of this fact by referring me to a Document named a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the NFSP and the Post Office back in 2013.
You provided a link to this document in your reply.

Unfortunately the link does not work and the document is no longer published on the NFSP web site in any event. However I do have a copy of it.

I am surprised to see that the Post Office is now acknowledging this MOU and that you are relying on its content to justify why you are invoking Sec 22 of the FOIA.
I have an e-mail dated the 29th May 2015 from the Head of Agency Development Nick Beale who disassociates the Post Office from this MOU and its content, Mr Beale goes on to state that the Post Office was in discussions over a Grant Agreement rather than this MOU.

In your reply you have directed me to point 10 of this MOU which you claim proves that both the Post Office and the NFSP agreed as far back as 2013 that the Grant Agreement was intended for future publication.

This is the wording of point 10.

“The parties acknowledge that this Memorandum of Understanding sets out the principles that will form the basis of a Framework Agreement to be developed jointly by the parties (in consultation with BIS) with the intention that a legally binding Framework Agreement will be negotiated, published and in place by (date) 2014”.

Not withstanding the fact that the Post Office had disassociated itself from this MOU and as a consequence point 10 that you now are relying on, point 10 does not refer to a “Grant Agreement” it refers to a Framework Agreement and that said Framework Agreement was to be done and dusted and published by 2014.
Framework Agreements are more associated with Commercial Contracts so you will understand why I thought that the Post Office had more than one type of funding agreement in place with the NFSP. Point 10 does not mention a Grant Agreement and in any event it is clear that the agreed publication date was to be in 2014.

This does not prove that the Post Office had jointly made a decision along with the NFSP to publish the Grant Agreement in the future prior to the date that I made my request under the FOIA.

For that reason the outcome of the internal review is flawed along with your invoking Sec 22 as your reason for not supplying me with the information I asked for.
It would appear to me that you have invoked Sec 22 after the date I asked for the information.

Since the NFSP was struck off as a Trade Union in 2013 the Post Office has been funding the NFSP through a funding agreement that you are calling a Grant Agreement. I put it to you that whatever this agreement is it is well established and has been in operation for the last 3 years. This does not suggest two organisations that are going through some kind of transition this relationship appears to be well developed between Post Office and NFSP as grant funding has been happily flowing over the last 3 years.

As I have previously informed you I have already made a formal complaint to the Information Commissioner and I will add your Internal Review outcome and this reply to the case file whilst we await the investigations of the Information Commissioners department.

Meanwhile in view of the above you may wish to review your decision that your internal review panel arrived at.

Yours sincerely

Mark Baker

FOIA, Post Office Limited

2 Attachments

Dear Mr Baker,

 

Please find attached a copy of the Grant Agreement as requested.

 

You can also find more information available at
[1]http://www.nfsp.org.uk/About-us.

 

Regards,

 

Kerry Moodie
Information Rights Manager
1^st Floor

Finsbury Dials
20 Finsbury Street

London EC2Y 9AQ

033 3665 3951

 

 

 

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References

Visible links
1. http://www.nfsp.org.uk/About-us

Dear Kerry Moodie
At last, now that didn't hurt did it? Or maybe it did? It is a shame that the Information Commissioner had to be involved to force you to release this information, hardly the conduct one would expect from a Public Authority who should be committed to openness and transparency. My request was made back in May 2016.

I have read through the information you have supplied and it does look like a contract for services to me rather than a Public Authority Grant Agreement, but rest assured I will pass this by the relevant legal advisors to check. As you will be aware the bypassing of Public Procurement legislation is a serious offence, but I will admit this is something that some Pubic Authorities tend to get wrong when offering a Grant when in fact a tender process for a Contract is the right thing to do.
Perhaps you should have sought Cabinet Office guidance?

Yours sincerely,

Mark Baker