Liverpool University Council received reports

Julian Todd made this Freedom of Information request to University of Liverpool

This request has been closed to new correspondence. Contact us if you think it should be reopened.

The request was partially successful.

Dear University of Liverpool,

Sorry to bother you, but I have found a disturbing number of omissions and errors from the minutes pages of many other committees whose reports feed into the Council decision making process.

In particular, paragraphs 7.1 and 7.2 of the 22 May 2019 Council meeting[1] records the receiving of reports from a 13 March 2019 meeting of the Education Committee and a 14 March 2019 meeting of the Research and Impact Committee.

Neither of these committees have up to date lists of minutes. The last set of minutes of the Education Committee is from January 2017,[2] and the issue with the Research and Impact Committee page is that the 8 June 2018 link actually brings up the minutes of the meeting of 9 June 2017![3]

The latter set of minutes made fascinating reading as they painted a rosy picture as to the progress of the business plan at Sensor City, which was what caused me to realize that the the date was wrong.

Also reported in Section 3.5 of the 22 May 2019 Council minutes is the receiving of: "A paper setting out a review of Sensor City and considering the ongoing requirement for the parent institutions to provide financial support, together with a summary of various options to mitigate this requirement for funding."

Accordingly, under the FOI act, please could I have copies of (or have it shown where they are published):

(1) The paper concerning Sensor City received and described in paragraph 3.5
(2) The report of the Education Committee described in paragraph 7.1
(3) The report of the Research and Impact Committee described in paragraph 7.2
-- of the minutes of the 22 May 2019 meeting of the University of Liverpool Council.

I trust that these pages will be easy to find, and that having them more available will mean that the effort put into producing them is made more valuable.

Links:

[1] 22 May 2019 minutes linked from: https://www.liverpool.ac.uk/governance/c...
[2] https://www.liverpool.ac.uk/governance/u...
[3] https://www.liverpool.ac.uk/governance/u...

Yours faithfully,

Julian Todd

foi Uof Liverpool, University of Liverpool

1 Attachment

Dear Mr Todd

This is to acknowledge receipt of your request for information from
the University of Liverpool.   Your reference number is FOI/2019/425. We
will review and process your request as soon as possible.

We will respond within 20 working days of the day we received the
request.  You will hear back from us by 13^th November at the latest. If
for any reason we are unable to meet this deadline, we will keep you fully
informed of the reasons for this.

If you have any queries about this email or your request or if at any
stage you are unhappy with the way in which your request is being handled
please do not hesitate to get in touch.

Yours sincerely

 

Kirsty Rothwell
Freedom of Information Officer / Data Protection Co-ordinator
Legal & Compliance

University of Liverpool, Foundation Building, Brownlow Hill, Liverpool L69
7ZX

 

The information in this email and any attachments is confidential. Unless
you are the intended recipient, you must not read, copy, distribute, use
or retain this message or any part of it. If you are not the intended
recipient, please notify the sender immediately.

 

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foi Uof Liverpool, University of Liverpool

1 Attachment

FOI/2019/425

13^th November 2019

 

Name: Julian Todd

By email to: [FOI #612290 email]

 

Dear Mr Todd,

 

Thank you for your email of 16^th October requesting information from the
University of Liverpool.  Colleagues have provided an answer to your
request below.

 

Under the FOI act, please could I have copies of (or have it shown where
they are published):

 

(1) The paper concerning Sensor City received and described in paragraph
3.5

(2) The report of the Education Committee described in paragraph 7.1

(3) The report of the Research and Impact Committee described in paragraph
7.2 -- of the minutes of the 22 May 2019 meeting of the University of
Liverpool Council. 

 

Although the University holds the information you requested, it has been
withheld under Section 43(2) of the Freedom of Information Act (FOI).
Section 43(2) states that: “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).”

 

This information has been withheld owing to the prejudice that would occur
to our commercial interests on account of competitive institutions
becoming aware of our activities with regard to the commercial activity of
Sensor City, the student experience and research performance income. 
These papers are produced for management forecasting and planning in
relation to these business activities. 

 

Section 43(2) is a qualified exemption and as such a public interest test must be performed to establish the harm that would occur from disclosure, and where the balance of interest lies.  We recognise that release of information concerning how the University spends its money is always considered to be in the public interest and that the public should be aware that operations of the University are being conducted appropriately.

 

However, the University competes in a competitive market environment in
terms of recruiting students to the University’s student population and
compete for research contract income. To disclose the information
requested would affect our ability to be competitive in these areas by
providing other institutions with otherwise un-disclosed knowledge
concerning our performance and strategy. Consideration is also given to
the harm disclosing this information would be likely to cause, combined
with other information already in the public domain (mosaic effect) or
possibly released at a future date (precedent effect).

 

A negative impact on our market position would make it harder for public money to be utilised prudently and would have the effect of distorting the marketplace we operate in. Universities are now subject to UK Competition Laws so engaging in the exchange of commercially valuable information with competitors, which an FOI disclosure would be considered as, would leave us open to investigation by competition authorities. It is the view of the University that, at this time, the public interest in withholding the information outweighs the public interest in disclosing it.

 

If you are unhappy with the way we have handled your request for
information, you have a right under Section 50 of the Freedom of
Information Act to ask the University to review it; however, you must do
so within 40 working days of the date of this response. Your request
should include our reference number and explain the reason for requesting
a review. Email [University of Liverpool request email] or write to the Freedom of Information
Reviewer, Legal & Compliance, University of Liverpool, Foundation
Building, 765 Brownlow Hill, Liverpool L69 7ZX.  We will respond to your
request for an internal review within 20 working days of receipt.

 

Following an internal review, if you remain dissatisfied with the handling
of your request, you have a right to appeal to the Information
Commissioner at The Information Commissioner’s Office, Wycliffe House,
Water Lane, Wilmslow, Cheshire SK9 5AF. Telephone:  0303 123 1113
www.ico.gov.uk.

 

There is no charge for making an appeal.

 

Yours sincerely,

 

Kirsty Rothwell
Freedom of Information / Data Protection Officer 
Legal & Governance

University of Liverpool, Foundation Building, Brownlow Hill, Liverpool L69
7ZX

 

The information in this email and any attachments is confidential. Unless
you are the intended recipient, you must not read, copy, distribute, use
or retain this message or any part of it. If you are not the intended
recipient, please notify the sender immediately.

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Dear Kirsty Rothwell,

Thank you for your reply on 13 November 2019 to my Freedom of Information request of 16 October 2019 for three of the documents referenced in the 22 May 2019 Council minutes.

Unfortunately, I am not happy with the response and would like an internal review of how my request was handled.

My main complaints are as follows:

(1) I did not even receive redacted copies of these documents.

Section 43(2) (Commercial interests) does not cover the entirety of these documents (for that you would have used Section 43(3)). It cannot be true that 100% of these three documents are commercially sensitive. For example, the report referred to in section 7.1 of the Council meeting lists 8 topics, some of which are obviously not commercially sensitive.

Normal procedure is to produce the documents in full and then cross out the sections that are deemed commercially sensitive and provide a justification for each redaction.

(2) It was claimed that there would be a prejudice to commercial interests if other "competitive institutions" became aware of the University's activities. I can only presume that "competitive institutions" are in fact other UK universities, who are themselves subject to the Freedom of Information Act. Therefore there is a level playing field between all of them, because corresponding information can be requested from any of them under the same terms.

Look, if we take the argument that this sort of information about one university gives a commercial advantage to another university seriously, then where are all the FOI requests being made by Liverpool University to other universities to test the limit of the law as to what could be disclosed that would be useful?

There are none. What is really happening is the management of each university is too busy minding their own business and keeping on top of various crises to pay any attention to valuable lessons about the governance in other institutions. (And it would very much be in the public interest if this were done.)

(3) Sensor City cannot be considered a commercial entity after the disclosure made in the Section 4.1 of the Council minutes of 23 November 2017 where it was reported that the auditors would not sign it off as a going concern without a letter of support from the University.

https://www.liverpool.ac.uk/media/livacu...

It is unfair to have organization that is almost entirely funded by public money and attempting to sell its office space services into the local market to then claim that it has a right to commercial secrecy and lack of transparency about how it does business when there are other private companies trying to make a living in the same market. It is exactly when there is this sort of heavily-subsidized unfair competition going on that the directors of these private companies have a right to know the details of the situation so they can explain to their bank managers how long it's likely to last.

In other words, the commercial nature of the activity is actually a reason FOR disclosure, not against disclosure.

(4) The claim that UK Competition Law prevents disclosure of information under the FOI because the competition authorities could construe this as an illegal "exchange of commercially valuable information with competitors" is probably the most creative excuse I have ever seen from an institution for not releasing information.

I am absolutely certain that the competition authorities do not have a problem with the definition of the word "exchange". I am simply requesting information. There is no exchange. As I have pointed out above, if this type of information about universities actually had a value to other universities, then where are all the FOI requests made from one to the other which would obtain it?

Please pass this on to the person who conducts Freedom of Information reviews who can arrange to send me copies of these documents promptly.

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

Yours faithfully,

Julian Todd

foi Uof Liverpool, University of Liverpool

1 Attachment

Dear Mr Todd

This is to acknowledge receipt of your request for an internal review of
our response to your recent request (FOI/2019/425). We will process your
request as soon as possible.

We will respond within 20 working days of the day we received the
request.  You will hear back from us by 12^th December at the latest. If
for any reason we are unable to meet this deadline, we will keep you fully
informed of the reasons for this.

If you have any queries about this email or your request or if at any
stage you are unhappy with the way in which your request is being handled
please do not hesitate to get in touch.

Yours sincerely

 

Kirsty Rothwell
Freedom of Information Officer / Data Protection Co-ordinator
Legal & Governance

University of Liverpool, Foundation Building, Brownlow Hill, Liverpool L69
7ZX

 

The information in this email and any attachments is confidential. Unless
you are the intended recipient, you must not read, copy, distribute, use
or retain this message or any part of it. If you are not the intended
recipient, please notify the sender immediately.

 

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foi Uof Liverpool, University of Liverpool

Dear Mr Todd

I am writing to you relating to your request for an internal review of this FOI request. You were initially given a deadline of 12th December for the University’s response.

In order to ensure that your request is answered in a lawful and compliant manner, the University requires extra time. The University is extending this deadline by a further 20 working days.

Should the disclosure be ready before the new deadline of 13th January 2020, it will be disclosed immediately.

Yours sincerely,

Kirsty Rothwell
Freedom of Information Officer / Data Protection Co-ordinator
Legal & Governance
University of Liverpool, Foundation Building, Brownlow Hill, Liverpool L69 7ZX

The information in this email and any attachments is confidential. Unless you are the intended recipient, you must not read, copy, distribute, use or retain this message or any part of it. If you are not the intended recipient, please notify the sender immediately.

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foi Uof Liverpool, University of Liverpool

4 Attachments

FOI/2019/425/IR

 

12^th December 2019

 

Name: Julian Todd

By email to: [FOI #612290 email]

 

Dear Mr Todd,

 

Thank you for your email of 14^th November requesting an internal review
of your initial FOI request to information from the University of
Liverpool. 

 

I can confirm I was not involved in the original decision regarding this
request. Having reviewed the request, we have decided to release the
following documents with redactions applied.  These are attached to this
email.

 

(1) The paper concerning Sensor City received and described in paragraph
3.5

(2) The report of the Education Committee described in paragraph 7.1

(3) The report of the Research and Impact Committee described in paragraph
7.2 -- of the minutes of the 22 May 2019 meeting of the University of
Liverpool Council

 

With regard to item 3, the document has been re-considered and we maintain
that there could be a likelihood of prejudice our commercial interests if
some of this information in the report was published. The University of
Liverpool has a commercial interest in the operation of Sensor City and
publication of parts of this document may risk current commercial
operations and future options. We would consider that any public interest
in transparency needs to be weighed against a strong public interest in
protecting our commercial interests, allowing our limited funds to be
better spent on education and research, and the continuing day to day
operation of Sensor City.   

 

Following an internal review, if you remain dissatisfied with the handling
of your request, you have a right to appeal to the Information
Commissioner at The Information Commissioner’s Office, Wycliffe House,
Water Lane, Wilmslow, Cheshire SK9 5AF. Telephone:  0303 123 1113
www.ico.gov.uk.

 

There is no charge for making an appeal.

 

Yours sincerely,

 

Daniel Howarth
Data Protection Officer  / Freedom of Information Manager
Legal & Governance

University of Liverpool, Foundation Building, Brownlow Hill, Liverpool L69
7ZX

 

The information in this email and any attachments is confidential. Unless
you are the intended recipient, you must not read, copy, distribute, use
or retain this message or any part of it. If you are not the intended
recipient, please notify the sender immediately.

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