Multi disciplinary consultancy

Janine Baker made this Freedom of Information request to Buying Solutions

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 Buying Solutions,

I see from your web site that the multi-disciplinary consultancy framework agreement has been extended for 12 months.

Please can you provide me under the Freedom of Information Act with any documents or emails sent from Buying Solutions to the Cabinet Office Efficiency and Reform Group relating to the extension of this framework. Also any documents or emails sent from Cabinet Office to Buying Solutions relating to this extension. I would expect that the appropriate category director or manager will have been copied in on any communications.

In addition, please can you send me copies of any communications sent to or received from the ten suppliers on this framework concerning this extension.

Yours faithfully,

Janine Baker

Dear Buying Solutions,

I refer to my request for information concerning the extension to the multi-disciplinary consultancy framework. Under the Freedom of Information Act you should have responded by yesterday so you are now in breach of your statutory obligations.

I am disappointed that you have not responded to a fairly straightforward request such as this within the allowable time. Please can you ensure a complete and comprehensive response is sent to me by the end of tomorrow.

Yours faithfully,

Janine Baker

FOI, Buying Solutions

Dear Ms Baker,

I can only apologise for not responding to you with the information you requested by now. We have been seeking clarification on some points and I can assure you I am doing everything possible to get this information over to you by close of play today.

If you have any queries, please use this email address to get back to me, or you can call me on 01603 704 589 if you would like to discuss this.

Apologies again.

Kind regards,
Tara Fernando
Buying Solutions FOI Officer

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FOI, Buying Solutions

Dear Ms Baker,

I wanted to let you know we are still having trouble getting clarification on some of the information you have requested I am afraid, and we will be unable to send this today. However, we do have information ready to send over to you and I am willing to do that tonight - would you prefer to have some of the information you have requested now with more to follow, or would you prefer to receive all the information in one go?

I apologise for any inconvenience this causes you.

Kind regards,
Tara Fernando.

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Dear Tara,

Thank you for your email. I appreciate the efforts you are going to to get the organisation to provide you with the information required.

Please can you send what you have now with the remainder to follow later. It would be useful if you could let me know what information is outstanding - I am hopeful that you will be able to send this early next week.

Best regards,

Janine Baker

FOI, Buying Solutions

2 Attachments

Dear Ms Baker,

Please see attached correspondence on your FOI request. This constitutes our whole response to your query. Once again, I am sorry we were unable to get this to you sooner.

Kind regards,
Tara.

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Dear Tara

Thank you for sending through the information in response to my Freedom of Information request on the extension to the Multi Disciplinary Consultancy framework.

I should be grateful if you could reconfirm that all information you hold has been sent. In particular:

1. I asked for all communications to and from the Cabinet Office Efficiency and Reform Group in respect of the extension of this framework. There do not appear to be any of these communications in your response. As far as I can tell from the Media Messages, the extension was driven by the Procurement Executive Board which I believe to be part of ERG. I find it difficult to believe that there was no correspondence between the ERG and Buying Solutions concerning the extension, particularly when you have noted "There was no option to extend the framework agreement in the original OJEU so there may be questions on why we are extending and its legality". Are you sure there are no further documents or emails to or from the ERG?

2. The Media Messages documents state in the Top line on the legality of the extension "After consultation, Buying Solutions considers that there are sufficient circumstances that justify an extension to the current Multi Disciplinary Consultancy framework agreement." Who was involved in this consultation? If it was existing suppliers and/or the ERG, I believe that any communications should be covered by my Freedom of Information Act request. If not, I should be grateful if you could release details of the consultations anyway (to avoid me having to raise a fresh Freedom of Information Act request).

3. Whilst you have sent the specific emails to/from suppliers concerning the Agreement Change Note, I again find it difficult to believe that none of the existing suppliers contacted Buying Solutions in the run up to the expiry of the Framework Agreement in March to ask whether it was being extended. I also find it difficult to believe that none of the suppliers questioned the legality of the extension. Are you sure that there are no further communications to and from suppliers?

I do appreciate all of your efforts to obtain the material produced to date, but feel there is likely to be further information which you have not yet released. I would prefer it if you investigate further and release any such information rather than me having to initiate the Internal Review process.

Yours sincerely,

Janine

FOI, Buying Solutions

Dear Janine,

Thank you for your email. We are discussing your request today, but I just wanted to assure you that I have definitely not knowingly withheld information on your request.

Kind regards,
Tara.

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Dear Tara,

Is there any update on whether there is any further information available in response to my Freedom of Information Act request?

As I said in my previous mail, I find it difficult to believe that there was no correspondence between Buying Solutions and ERG, and no correspondence with the existing suppliers concerning the legality of the extension.

Best regards

Janine Baker

FOI, Buying Solutions

Dear Janine,

I am very sorry I have not been able to come back to you as yet. I was hoping to respond to respond to today, but I am afraid this will not now be possible, as I am out of the office this afternoon and tomorrow. I am however back in on Friday and I will get information over to you then. I hope this doesn't inconvenience you too much.

Apologies once again.

Kind regards,
Tara

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Dear Tara,

Any update?

Regards,

Janine

FOI, Buying Solutions

Hello Janine,

Apologies for the lack of news, and again, the lateness. I am just confirming a few last details, and would like a colleague to double check information I have for you, to ensure we are compliant with Data Protection principles, then I am sure I am able to send these out to you tomorrow.

Kind regards,
Tara

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Dear Buying Solutions,

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

I am writing to request an internal review of Buying Solutions's handling of my FOI request 'Multi disciplinary consultancy'.

I made my initial request for information concerning the extension to the Multi Disciplinary Consultancy Framework on 31 March. I received no response to this within the statutory 20 working days, and so had to chase on 5 May. I did receive an apology from Tara Fernando who said that she would try to get a response by the end of the day, and did send out some information the following day.

The information appeared to be incomplete, so on 8 May I asked Tara to double check whether all the requested information had been released. She responded the next day that she was discussing the matter with colleagues, but that she had "definitely not knowingly withheld information on [my] request".

I heard nothing further and so chased up again on 16 May. On 18 May Tara said that she was hoping to respond to me that day, but would not be able to and would respond on Friday 20th.

By the 24th I still had not heard anything so chased again. On the 26th Tara said that she was "just confirming a few last details, and would like a colleague to double check information [she had for me], to ensure we are compliant with Data Protection principles" and said she was sure she would be able to send these out the following day.

I have now waited for another week with no response. I do appreciate that Tara apologises each time she does send me a tardy response, but I am concerned that I keep on having to chase up to get the information to which I am entitled.

The matters I should like the Internal Review to consider are:

1. The initial delay in responding to my request within 20 working days, and that I had to chase Buying Solutions up to get a response.

2. From her response of the 26th, it would appear that Buying Solutions holds some information within the scope of my original request which has not been sent out to me. This would indicate a failure to conduct a proper search of your records to find the required information.

3. The string of missed deadlines from Ms Fernando, and whether there are procedural shortcomings in your Freedom of Information team.

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

Yours faithfully,

Janine Baker

FOI, Buying Solutions

1 Attachment

Dear Ms Baker,

Please find attached correspondence on you FOI request.

Kind regards,

Tara Fernando

Tara Fernando

Assistant Private Secretary

Buying Solutions, Rosebery Court,

St Andrews Business Park, Norwich NR7 0HS

Direct dial 01603 704 589

Customer Service Desk 0345 410 2222

[1]www.buyingsolutions.gov.uk

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FOI, Buying Solutions

13 Attachments

Dear Janine,

Please find attached response and related documents in conclusion to your
FOI request and your request for an internal review.

Regards

Karen Jopson

This email and any attachments are confidential. They may contain privileged information and are intended for the named addressee(s) only. They must not be distributed without our consent. If you are not the intended recipient, please notify us by reply, or telephone our Customer Service Desk on 0345 410 2222 and then delete the e-mail.

Buying Solutions is not liable for any opinions expressed by the sender.

Any unauthorised copying, disclosure or distribution of the material in this communication is strictly forbidden.

Buying Solutions information systems are monitored to ensure they are operating correctly. Furthermore, the content of emails may be examined, in exceptional circumstances, for the purpose of investigating or detecting any unauthorised use.

-....-

The original of this email was scanned for viruses by Government Secure
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On leaving the GSI this email was certified virus free.

Dear Ms Jopson

I am disappointed in the response to my request for an Internal Review into the handling of this request. As I am sure you are aware, the purpose of an Internal Review is to have someone independent conduct an impartial review of the case. From the letter you have sent me, Ms Fernando and some others got together to have an "internal review meeting" and she has responded to me. This does not appear to be what the Act envisaged. I should therefore like you to re-do the Internal Review with someone senior and impartial leading it, ideally someone who understands the Freedom of Information Act and in particular the exemptions and the Information Commissioner's guidance.

Firstly, I appreciate the apology from Ms Fernando on behalf of Buying Solutions and her assurance that you take your responsibilities under the Act very seriously and will be reviewing your processes. I do hope that this is more than just empty words and that you really will dig into the detail of why the Department failed to conduct a proper search of your records. In particular, I find it almost unbelievable that you did not consider the MDC Extension Paper to be within the scope of my original request.

However, the main reason I would like you to conduct a proper Internal Review is in response to the level of redaction to the documents you have now released.

On all of the emails, you have redacted all of the names of the individuals, claiming exemption under section 40(2) of the Act for Data Protection. I am sure you are aware of the Information Commissioner's guidance on the use of 40(2) to redact names. However, if you are not, it can be found here (http://www.ico.gov.uk/upload/documents/l...). From this, the Information Commissioner says that you should consider whether the information relates to their public role rather than their private life (which it does), whether they should expect their role to be under scrutiny (which they probably should) and whether disclosure of their names would cause unwarranted damage or distress to the individual (which it would not). Hence I cannot see why it is necessary to redact the names. This redaction makes it very difficult to understand the email trail and who is talking to whom. Perhaps as an alternative to releasing their names (if you really are concerned about this), could you indicate on the emails which role/department was involved in each case of a redaction, to make it possible to track what is being said.

Secondly you have redacted the interesting portion of the MDC Extension Paper, claiming a Section 42 exemption (Legal Professional Privilege). Again from a review of the Information Commissioner's guidance (http://www.ico.gov.uk/upload/documents/l...), I do not feel that the redactions here are correct. Section 42 only concerns communications between you and your lawyers, not any information which could potentially have a legal implication. Assuming the MDC Extension Paper was not prepared by a lawyer, and given that it has no protective marking, I do not believe Section 42 to be engaged. Furthermore, the Information Commissioner states that "LPP may have been lost (waived) if the client has shared it with third parties and it has lost its confidential character. If this is the case, the exemption will not apply." I believe this to be the case here, as the information was shared by Buying Solutions with whoever received the paper.

Thirdly, and in the alternative, Ms Fernando correctly notes that Section 42 is a qualified exemption, and hence you needed to assess where the balance of public interest lies. However, Ms Fernando's glib statement that "we have considered whether in all the circumstances of the case, the public interest in withholding the information outweighs the public interest in disclosing the information and we are satisfied that it does" provides no confidence to me that there really was any consideration of releasing this information. If Section 42 were engaged (which I do not believe to be the case), I believe there to be a strong public interest in disclosure. The reasons for this (again based on the Information Commissioner's guidance) are:

- the general public interest in disclosure of information;
- no litigation is contemplated - three months have elapsed since this framework was extended and there has (as far as I am aware) been no legal challenge;
- a large amount of public money is at stake (there would be no need to extend the framework for contracts under the OJEU threshold, so clearly this relates to potential major contracts);
- a suspicion of misrepresentation or unlawful behaviour - the emails indicate that Buying Solutions acknowledges there to be a "technical breach", and there appears to be no legal basis to extend a contract longer than the original OJEU Contract Notice term;
- a lack of transparency in the rationale for the public authority’s actions - if there really is nothing wrong with extending the framework, surely Buying Solutions would be happy to publish the guidance to support this.

In the circumstances, if Buying Solutions has nothing to hide here, I should be grateful if you would publish the MDC Extension Paper in full. I do not accept that Section 42 applies to the redactions, and even if it does, I believe that the public interest clearly favours disclosure.

Please can you arrange for a proper Internal Review of this as a matter of urgency. I believe that the redactions you have made are not in accordance with the Freedom of Information Act and the Information Commissioner's guidance notes. I shall be referring this to the Information Commissioner if you continue to maintain this lack of transparency.

Yours sincerely,

Janine Baker

Dear Ms Jopson

Please can you acknowledge receipt of my message of 2 July (10 days ago) in which I requested a proper Internal Review into the handling of my request for information.

Please can you tell me whether you intend to respond to this and if so when. If I do not hear anything by the end of this week (15 July), I shall assume you are not prepared to correspond on this and shall raise my complain with the Information Commissioner.

Yours faithfully,

Janine Baker

FOI, Buying Solutions

13 Attachments

Dear Janine,

Please find attached response to your email.

Regards
Karen Jopson

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