Potential CPO partners

Andrew McCulloch made this Freedom of Information request to Thanet District 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.

Andrew McCulloch

Dear Thanet District Council,

In statements to the Press and other media the Leader of Thanet District Council has advised that the Council are in discussions with either Edi Truell of Disruptive Capital Finance (DCF) and/or Dale Crawford of DTD Consult regarding a CPO of the Manston Airport site for commercial aviation related business. A UKIP Councillor, George Rusiecki, has been tasked with handling negotiations for TDC; indeed on 16th July 2017 DTD Consult posted a picture of their representative, Dale Crawford, holding a meeting with Cllr Rusiecki in a pub garden.

Please provide the following information regarding the discussions about the Manston Airport site.

Details of all meetings between TDC and Edi Truell and/or other representatives of Disruptive Capital Finance or any company associated with either Mr Truell or DCF. Each to include:
Date and venue of all meetings
details of persons attending these meetings, and
confirmation that the meeting was solely about aviation related business at the Manston Airport site.

Details of all meetings between TDC and Dale Crawford and/or other representatives of DTD Consult or any company associated with either Mr Crawford or DTD Consult. Each to include:
Date and venue of all meetings
details of persons attending these meetings, and
confirmation that the meeting was solely about aviation related business at the Manston Airport site.

I appreciate that there may be a temptation to hide behind the section 40(2) exemption of the 1998 Data Protection Act so if you are minded to use this I will be happy for a blanket statement “X number officers of TDC, including Y number officers of the Senior Management Team attended this meeting” or similar to be substituted for names. This of course also applies to representatives of either of the private organisations.

Similarly, you may feel that Sections 43(2) and 36(2)(c) of the FoIA may restrict your response. However I have not asked for , nor require, any details of what was discussed or agreed at these meetings, so neither exemption is relevant.

Yours faithfully,

Andrew McCulloch

TDC FOI, Thanet District Council

Thank you for your request for official information and/or personal data.
This request is currently being reviewed under the terms of the Freedom of
Information Act 2000, the Environmental Information Regulations 2004
and/or the subject access provisions of the Data Protection Act 1998.

 

We will provide a substantive response within any timely statutory
deadline.

 

In some circumstances a fee may be payable; if this is the case we will
let you know before proceeding to comply with your request.

  

Kind regards,

 

 

 

Information Governance Officer

Thanet District Council

Margate

CT9 1XZ

01843 577620

 

show quoted sections

Calum Liddle, Thanet District Council

Dear Mr McCulloch,

Thank you for your request for information, dated 28 July 2017.

An authority can extend the time for compliance to allow it more time to respond to complex or voluminous requests, or in order to consider the balance of public interest, under s. 10(3).

TDC in this instance, unfortunately, requires the additional twenty working days to consider, among other things, the balance of the public interest test in this case. Our proposed reliance on section 36 – disclosure would prejudice the effective conduct of public affairs – requires a complex weighting exercise to be undertaken in order to determine whether any such disclosure ought to be made.

I will, personally, respond as promptly as possible but, in any event, by 25 September 2017.

I thank you for your patience in this regard.

Best,

Calum Liddle
Information Governance and Equality Manager
(Data Protection Officer and Deputy Senior Information Risk Officer)
Thanet District Council

Tel: 01843 577 631
Fax: 01843 290 906
Email: [email address]

Dear Calum Liddle,

I note that 20 working days has proved insufficient for you to have invented excuses for denying this information. To save yourself a huge amount of effort I'm sure it would be easier for you to just overcome your natural tendency to hide information from we mere council tax payers and answer my questions now. Or have the office shredders broken down again?

Yours sincerely,

Andrew McCulloch

Dear Calum Liddle,
I refer you to the TDC response to my FoI of 12th December 2016, following an internal review. This was un-numbered so I have included the link below.

You will see from this FoI that I wanted details of a specific meeting - someone in TDC HQ used a bit of common sense and provided an answer.

This FoI asked:
1. With whom did Cllr Wells and Ms Homer meet at this conference or meeting?
2. What particular group or organsisation was responsible for holding the meeting?
3. What was the purpose and/or subject of this meeting?
4. What was the outcome of this meeting?
5. What decisions were made at this meeting?
6. What further action is to be undertaken by TDC as a consequence of this meeting?
7. Were any other Officers or Members of TDC present at any time during this meeting?

After internal review TDC responded:

1. There was no meeting involving both the Leader, namely, Chris Wells,
and the Chief Executive, namely, Madeline Homer, on 09 December 2016.
The Chief Executive, namely, Ms Madeline Homer, had no engagement in
London.
However, the Director of Corporate Governance, namely, Mr Tim Howes, the
Leader of the Council, namely, Mr Chris Wells, and Councillor George
Rusiecki attended a meeting with Disruptive Capital in London on 09
December 2016.
2. Disruptive Capital.
3. It was an exploratory meeting discussing Manston Airport and potential
commercial policy formation.
4. There was no outcome. It was an exploratory meeting only, in which
there was a free and frank deliberation and exchange of views.
5. None. No formal decisions were made at this meeting.
6. None. Bearing in mind the nature of this meeting there were no formal
actions although, of course, Manston Airport remains a ‘live’ issue.
7. The Director of Corporate Governance, namely, Mr Tim Howes, the Leader
of the Council, namely, Mr Chris Wells, and Councillor George Rusiecki
were the only Officers and Members in attendance at the meeting with
Disruptive Capital

TDC had no trouble disclosing this information then and made no attempt to hide behind Section 36.

In the present FoI I have asked:
Date and venue of all meetings
details of persons attending these meetings, and
confirmation that the meeting was solely about aviation related business at the Manston Airport site.

If TDC were able to disclose similar information five months ago I fail to see that they have any grounds to withhold the information requested in this FoI. This will form the basis of any appeal to the Information Commissioner, if necessary.

https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/v...

Yours sincerely,

Andrew McCulloch

Dear Thanet District Council,

You have now had 42 working days to respond to this request. In accordance with advice previously received from him I have therefore notified the Information Commissioner's office of your failure to comply with the law.

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

Yours faithfully,

Andrew McCulloch

TDC FOI, Thanet District Council

Thank you for your request for official information and/or personal data.
This request is currently being reviewed under the terms of the Freedom of
Information Act 2000, the Environmental Information Regulations 2004
and/or the subject access provisions of the Data Protection Act 1998.

 

We will provide a substantive response within any timely statutory
deadline.

 

In some circumstances a fee may be payable; if this is the case we will
let you know before proceeding to comply with your request.

  

Kind regards,

 

 

 

Information Governance Officer

Thanet District Council

Margate

CT9 1XZ

01843 577620

 

Dear TDC FOI,

My apologies - wrong FoI! Please ignore

Yours sincerely,

Andrew McCulloch

TDC FOI, Thanet District Council

Thank you for your request for official information and/or personal data.
This request is currently being reviewed under the terms of the Freedom of
Information Act 2000, the Environmental Information Regulations 2004
and/or the subject access provisions of the Data Protection Act 1998.

 

We will provide a substantive response within any timely statutory
deadline.

 

In some circumstances a fee may be payable; if this is the case we will
let you know before proceeding to comply with your request.

  

Kind regards,

 

 

 

Information Governance Officer

Thanet District Council

Margate

CT9 1XZ

01843 577620

 

Calum Liddle, Thanet District Council

Dear Mr McCulloch,

Thank you once more for your request for information, dated 28 July 2017.

First, I move to apologise for the delay in responding, of course: I am sorry. As with other Councils in the modern local government arena, TDC is under severe financial and budgetary pressures.

I am now writing with a substantive response of first instance.

TDC is moving to refuse disclosure in reliance on section 36(2)(c) of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 where it states that information is exempt if in the reasonable opinion of the qualified person its disclosure would otherwise prejudice, or would likely otherwise prejudice, the effective conduct of public affairs. The Commissioner accepts that a public authority, such as in this instance, needs a safe space to reach decisions, deliberate and consult away from external interference and distraction. Disclosure would, in the view of the qualified person at TDC, inhibit this function.

Manston Airport, and its viability, positively remains a ‘live’ issue. This, I state, in no uncertain terms. TDC is entitled to a free space in order to undertake its public functions and duties effectively; these extend themselves to relevant meetings with all necessary parties including subject matter experts, consultants and financiers, for example. It is the view of TDC that the overriding public interest rests in protecting that function space, that which is required in order to, say, engage with potential partners and make a determination, for example, for developments, free from external interference. The process, in other words, is not to be disrupted, hampered or in any other way coerced by way of any premature disclosure of correspondence, documents or evidence under review. It might be argued that you only seek that which is nominal: dates, parties, venues and agenda items. But on that point I'd question the inferences to be (fairly) drawn. And, it follows, where is the public interest?

TDC, as you state, has made disclosures in the past concerning meetings held related to Manston Airport and, specifically, its viability. TDC is also pro-actively disclosing developments of substance appropriately and, in turn, affording an appropriate level of transparency. But any further disclosure would only look to provide an inappropriate real-time commentary on duties being undertaken - i.e. meetings, conversations etc - that which is not necessarily substantive. We cannot, even, such as in this case, afford to be judged for whom Officers and Members meet; imagine, let's say, there was a future reluctance to engage with certain parties. Or, let's say, that external pseudo-like micro-management of Manston Airport viability threatened to steer decisions in whom to engage with, when, where and for how long. TDC, to that extent, sees no public interest in disclosure on this occasion. Disclosure, in other words, is a step too far, Mr McCulloch. This exemption is not being applied in a blanket fashion, clearly, but moves to, now, protect a safe and uninterrupted function space for public duties free from the burden of an inspection of real-time narrative: 'dates, venues and agendas'. That disclosure appears of little, if any, public value or interest.

Furthermore, in this instance, we are moving to issue a refusal notice on the grounds of section 43(2), too, in so far as that disclosure would prejudice the commercial interests of Thanet District Council.

Following the lead of the Tribunal decision in Hogan and Oxford City Council v The Information Commissioner (EA/2005/0026 and 0030), the Commissioner considers that in determining the nature of prejudice a public authority must be able to show that the prejudice claimed is “real, actual or of substance” and show that there is a “causal link” between the disclosure and the prejudice claimed.

Manston Airport remains a ‘live’ issue with a need for an arena of conversation to be had with businesses, consultants, subject matter experts and economists, among others. Premature disclosure of discussions, and the content of those discussions - whether explicit or in nurturing inferences - would erode confidence in those we wish to speak with and, perhaps, do business with.

TDC, as custodians of the public purse, must look to engage with third parties and, even, explore the novel, the innovative and even that which is controversial as part of broader business and policy issues. It is a well-established right of modern local government to do so and, indeed, the commercial expectations from central government in this era of thriftiness, frugality and self-sufficiency are very well documented. The freedom of information regime affords TDC protection of its commercial interests akin to private business and those shared sensitivities.

In the circumstances of this case, TDC does not recognise any benefits whatsoever transparency would bring to assisting in our wider responsibilities concerning accountability and, indeed, our own mission to be a council that is trusted. It follows that disclosure does not merit the likely financial harm to the council and, ultimately, the rate-payer at large, should disclosures which inhibit commercial engagement be permitted. Again, this comes down to TDC having a safe competitive space to undertake public functions. A perpetual running narrative of 'when, where and why' would only nurture unfair and possibly inaccurate inferences and competitor speculation, too, even. The public interest is served by way of voluntary disclosures, whether in response to freedom of information requests, engagement with the fourth estate or pro-active publication on our website.

This brings Thanet District council's response of first instance to a close.

I imagine that this response if not to your satisfaction, bearing in mind the outcome: You may ask for an internal review by submitting a request within one month of the date of this response for appeal. Your request should be addressed to the Information Governance Manager, Thanet District Council, PO Box 9, Cecil Street, Margate, CT9 1XZ or by emailing [email address] You may, in this instance, reply directly to me, of course. I would welcome your submissions and any arguments you may have.

If you are still dissatisfied after an internal review, you may then, having exhausted the complaints procedure here at TDC, appeal to the Information Commissioner: Wycliffe House, Water Lane, Wilmslow SK9 5AF.

Best,

Calum Liddle
Information Governance and Equality Manager
(Data Protection Officer and Deputy Senior Information Risk Officer)
Thanet District Council

Tel: 01843 577 631
Fax: 01843 290 906
Email: [email address]

Dear Thanet District Council,

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

I am writing to request an internal review of Thanet District Council's handling of my FOI request 'Potential CPO partners'.

I have passed this opaque response to the ICO, since it is clearly intended to muddy the waters and delay a proper response for purely political reasons - the Council still maintain that negotiations with these two parties are still going ahead but I believe that if you were to answer this request honestly and truthfully this would be proved to be untrue.

Given your inability to respond with any degree of alacrity I'm not expecting an answer until after Christmas,

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

Yours faithfully,

Andrew McCulloch

TDC FOI, Thanet District Council

Thank you for your request for official information and/or personal data.
This request is currently being reviewed under the terms of the Freedom of
Information Act 2000, the Environmental Information Regulations 2004
and/or the subject access provisions of the Data Protection Act 1998.

 

We will provide a substantive response within any timely statutory
deadline.

 

In some circumstances a fee may be payable; if this is the case we will
let you know before proceeding to comply with your request.

  

Kind regards,

 

 

 

Information Governance Officer

Thanet District Council

Margate

CT9 1XZ

01843 577620

 

TDC FOISupport, Thanet District Council

Dear Mr McCulloch,

Thank you for your communication of 17 October 2017 requesting an internal review of the response you were provided for the above Freedom of Information request.

This has been passed to an officer for review and they will reply directly in due course.

If you have any queries about this internal review please direct them to [email address] quoting the reference number above.

Yours sincerely

Information Governance and Equality Team

Calum Liddle, Thanet District Council

Dear Mr McCulloch,

Thank you for your email this morning.

In light of your correspondence I am providing a swift internal review response.

Despite the invitation extended to yourself, no further arguments, nor substantive submissions, were provided this morning.

Discussions between parties are still, to the contrary, ongoing and, again, I'd stress this is a 'live' issue. It follows that TDC upholds the response of first instance and this email, now, constitutes the final response following review.

You may now approach the Information Commissioner on appeal: Wycliffe House, Water Lane, Wilmslow SK9 5AF.

Best,

Calum Liddle
Information Governance and Equality Manager
(Data Protection Officer and Deputy Senior Information Risk Officer)
Thanet District Council

Tel: 01843 577 631
Fax: 01843 290 906
Email: [email address]

Andrew McCulloch left an annotation ()

I have passedthisto the ICO

Andrew McCulloch left an annotation ()

Following received from TDC on 26th April 2018

"I apologise for significant delay in the Council getting back to you regarding your queries around Manston Airport. I have recently joined the Council and taken on responsibility for Information Governance directly and have reviewed your query. I have contacted the relevant Officer who has knowledge of this matter and it has been confirmed that as far as he is aware from his own knowledge and research that;

'Meetings have been reviewed between the 12 December 2016 up until the 28 July 2017. On the 9 May 2017 there was a 'Skype' meeting with Dale Crawford regarding Manston Airport. The Council attendees were Cllr Chris Wells; Cllr Lin Fairbrass; Cllr George Rusiecki and Mr Tim Howes Director of Corporate Governance those attendees met in the Business Suite of the Thanet Council Offices.'

The Council would like to withdraw its refusal to provide the information based on s.36 and s.43 as it is not required.

I am away from the office until 9th May 2018, I would be grateful if you have any queries that you expect a response shortly after 9th May 2018. If you have an urgent issue please contact my Director Tim Howes."

Andrew McCulloch left an annotation ()

My response to that email

"I have attached the correspondence relating to a previous FoI request, which quite clearly states (after a great deal of pressure from me) that Mr Howes, along with Cllr Wells and Cllr Rusiecki, attended a meeting on 9th December 2016 with Disruptive Capital. This meeting is not mentioned in your response below. I accept that I already had this information but it's strange that it wasn't mentioned in your response.

In my original request I mentioned a meeting on 9th July 2017 between Cllr Rusiecki and Dale Crawford in a pub garden - I enclose a photo taken from a Facebook post by Mr Crawford. No mention of this meeting either.

You'll understand that this request has been subject to much delay - one might almost say obstruction. I had dealings with your predecessor on a number of occasions and the best that can be said about his responses is that they were verbose and obviously designed to obfuscate. I would also draw your attention to a previous ruling by the ICO, where Mr Howes attention to detail was called into question and TDC were criticised over their handling of a previous FoI request. I attach the correspondence associated with the FoI, which should help you find the letter from the ICO Senior Case Officer. For all these reasons I'm afraid that I don't think I've been told the whole story yet.

I would be grateful if Mr Howes, Ms Homer, Cllr Wells, Cllr Rusiecki and any other relevant TDC personnel would have another look at their diaries. I'm sorry to have to make a further call on their time but the reluctance to respond and the delays incurred would arouse the suspicions of the most gullible."

Andrew McCulloch left an annotation ()

Following email received from TDC. I very much doubt that I will get much more

Dear Mr McCulloch,

I thank you for your patience in this matter. The Council is in a position to add further information to my previous response dated 26th April 2018 which I have set out below;

Date and Venue

Meeting

Attendees

27 May 2016

Meeting with Disruptive Capital re Manston Airport

Cllr Wells, Mr Truell

9 December 2016

Vestry House, London

Meeting with Disruptive Capital re Manston Airport

Mr Truell, Cllr Wells, Cllr Rusiecki, T Howes, I other representative of Disruptive Capital

12 December 2016

TDC Offices

Skype meeting with Dale Crawford

Cllr Wells, Cllr Fairbrass, Cllr Rusiecki, T Howes

8 August 2017

Vestry House, London

Meeting with Disruptive Capital re Manston Airport

Cllr Wells, Cllr Rusiecki, M Homer, Luke ? (Disruptive Capital)

Yours sincerely

Sophia Nartey

Andrew McCulloch left an annotation ()

Following received from the ICO on 25th May. Some aspects of TDC's response are not strictly accurate so this is not over.

I write further to your email to Thanet District Council of 26 April 2018 (copied to the Commissioner) in respect of the above matter and the Council’s subsequent email and disclosure to you of 24 May 2018.

Following your querying of the accuracy of the Council’s revised response of 26 April 2018 to your request, the Commissioner contacted the Council and asked them to carry out further checks and searches for information within the scope of your request and to address the points which you had made. Having carried out the further checks and searches the Council has confirmed to the Commissioner as follows:

The Council explained that they (mistakenly) understood that your request related to the period between 12 December 2016 and 28 July 2017, whereas in actual fact, as the Commissioner pointed out, your request of 28 July 2017 did not specify a time period for the information you were seeking. Your request therefore encompassed any and all meetings which the Council had had (within the terms of your worded request) about Manston Airport, up until 28 July 2017. This included the meetings (now disclosed by the Council) of 27 May 2016 and 9 December 2016.

The Council has confirmed that the emails and diary entries of the appropriate individuals (including Ms Homer, Mr Howes, Cllr Wells and Cllr Rusiecki) were all checked and re-checked for relevant held information. Appropriate and multiple keywords and search terms were used to search the Council’s emails and electronic databases, these being, ‘RiverOak’, ‘Manston’, ‘Manston Airport’, ‘Disruptive Capital’, ‘Crawford’, ‘DCF’, ‘DTD’ and ‘Truell’’. The Council’s checks and searches located and identified information concerning four meetings, which the Council provided you with in their email and revised response of 24 May 2018.

The Council have confirmed that they hold no recorded information in respect of the meeting in a pub garden between Mr Crawford and Cllr Rusiecki and advised the Commissioner that Cllr Rusiecki is a backbench councillor with no legal authority to act on behalf of the Council. That is to say, the Council suggested that Cllr Rusiecki must have been meeting with Mr Crawford in his personal capacity.

However, the Commissioner drew the Council’s attention to an article on IsleofThanetNews.com, in which Mr Crawford (of DTD Consult, the American investment group that had expressed an interest in the airport) stated that links had been established with potential commercial partners and that he would be entering into discussions with the Council about providing the necessary guarantees to ensure a successful conclusion to negotiations.

Mr Crawford was quoted as saying:

‘I am in constant contact with Councillor Rusiecki and he is providing all necessary information whilst also making us aware that there are no favourites in this process and all interested parties are being treated equally’.

Therefore, whilst it may be the case that Cllr Rusiecki had no legal authority to act on behalf of the Council, he was clearly very much involved in the interest shown by Mr Crawford and his investment group. Furthermore, in the light of Mr Crawford’s public statement, the Commissioner considers it highly unlikely that the two men were discussing matters entirely unrelated to Manston Airport during their pub garden meeting. The Commissioner has therefore advised the Council that whilst she accepts that they hold no recorded information in respect of this outdoor meeting, she is concerned, from a transparency and accountability perspective, that the Council never held any record or information of this meeting (because they were unaware of it) given that it is highly likely to have involved at least some discussion of Manston Airport and Cllr Rusiecki’s involvement with the same (the Commissioner notes that Mr Crawford himself referred to ‘Councillor’ Rusiecki in his

internet post of 16 July 2017). Given Mr Crawford’s public statement(s) about his contact with Cllr Rusiecki, the Commissioner advised the Council that it is not at all surprising that you (or the public at large) have shown an interest in this meeting.

In response the Council advised the Commissioner of their anti-fraud and corruption strategy, which states that, ‘Unless an officer is also present, no Member will meet with a third party to discuss (inter alia), the acquisition or disposal by the Council of land or an interest in land including the terms on which such land or interest in land is to be acquired or disposed of’. The Council stated that this is a blanket prohibition and that Members had been advised of it, especially in relation to Manston Airport.

The Council advise the Commissioner that they do not have the resources to follow all media to discover what third parties are saying about the Council or individual councillors or whether what they are saying is true. The Council also confirm that they do not actively investigate what individual members are doing or who they are meeting. The Commissioner has advised the Council that whilst she would clearly not expect the Council to investigate an individual member in the absence of evidence or reason to think that there are grounds for any such investigation, she would expect the Council to investigate an individual member where there is evidence or grounds to show or suggest that that member has (or may have) acted in contravention of the Council’s anti-fraud and corruption strategy.

It is a matter for the Council what action (if any) they decide to take with regard to Cllr Rusiecki in view of Mr Crawford’s public statement(s) but it is a matter of concern that had it not been for you specifically highlighting Mr Crawford’s internet post in your request (and the Commissioner’s subsequent investigation) the Council would apparently have been unaware of the pub garden meeting and its significance and context.

The Commissioner is satisfied, on the balance of probabilities, that the Council have provided you with all the relevant information that they hold within the scope of your request of 28 July 2017. For the reasons explained above, the Council hold no information in respect of the pub garden meeting between Cllr Rusiecki and Mr Crawford, and as you are probably aware, the Commissioner’s role and remit in this matter is restricted to ascertaining the extent of recorded information held by the Council within the scope of your request.

I can confirm that the ICO will now close its file on this particular case, and the Commissioner is very grateful for your information, which has assisted her enquiries with the Council.

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