SSEF Bids

James Coombs made this Freedom of Information request to Department for Education

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 Department for Education.

Dear Department for Education,

Please provide details of the successful bids from schools and the responses from the DfE for funding under the Selective Schools Expansion Fund (SSEF). You might consider that some of this information is exempt from disclosure, for example under s.36(2)(a), if its disclosure might impact commercial negotiations. If so, the law permits you to omit just those parts of my request which are commercially sensitive.

In considering your response, I would ask you to reflect carefully on the contents of this letter, https://trak.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2..., written by the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education Lord Agnew since you ultimately report to him. Specifically in connection with the SSEF, Lord Agnew says, “Openness and transparency are of the utmost importance. The public has a right to know how money is spent. There is a genuine public interest in knowing what successful schools have planned in order to achieve fair access and to create partnerships.”

Lord Agnew was responding to questions as to why one particular school refused to provide any information about their SSEF bid. He speculated it might have been out of concern that this would prejudice negotiations with building contractors. If so, then the correct response would have been to remove any commercially sensitive information and provide the rest of the information as required by law. It is clear from the correspondence (https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/f...) that the school were advised by the Department for Education to refuse to provide the information. The DfE really should not be giving legal advice to other authorities when it is apparent that they have such a poor grasp of the relevant legislation themselves. This particular request has now been referred to the Information Commissioner.

At a time when the Institute for Fiscal Studies reports that spending per pupil is to fall by 6.5%, the SSEF is investing £400,000,000 of public money in expanding schools which have “realistic and ambitious plans to admit more disadvantaged children”. There is no reason why releasing information about, “what successful schools have planned in order to achieve fair access and to create partnerships” would negatively impact on negotiating with contractors and Lord Agnew’s letter explains in no uncertain terms how important it is that the way this money is spent must be fully open and transparent. I would therefore very much appreciate a response to this request which complies with your legal obligations under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 so that I don’t have to raise this again with the SoS.

Yours faithfully,

James Coombs

MINISTERS, Department for Education

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ACCOUNT, Unmonitored, Department for Education

3 Attachments

 

Dear Mr Coombs,

 

Thank you for your request for information, which was received on 18
January 2019.

You requested the details of the successful bids from schools and the
responses from the DfE for funding under the Selective Schools Expansion
Fund (SSEF). 

I have dealt with your request under the Freedom of Information Act 2000
(“the Act”).

In response to your request around the details of the bids, the department
holds the information you requested, but it is being withheld because the
following exemptions apply to this information: section 22 of the Act,
Information is due for future publication and section 43 of the Act,
Commercial Interests.

For section 22, it is the public interest not to disclose the information
requested.

The department holds the information you have requested. However, we
consider that the information we hold on the successful schools fair
access and partnership plans are exempt from release under section 22 of
the Act. Section 22 provides for information to be exempt from disclosure
where the information is held by the department with a view to its
publication by the department or any other person.  We plan to publish
this information at the below link in February, which will coincide with
the launch of a new bidding round for the Selective Schools Expansion Fund
(SSEF).

[1]https://www.gov.uk/government/publicatio...

 

Section 22 of the Act is a qualified exemption which means a public
interest test needs to be carried out, in doing so the following factors
have been fully considered. It is acknowledged that there is a general
public interest in disclosure because of the need for there to be open and
transparent government and that the sharing of information with the public
should be free and open.

The public interest in permitting the government to publish information in
a manner and at a time of its own choosing is also important. It is part
of the effective conduct of public affairs that the general publication of
information is a conveniently planned and managed activity within the
reasonable control of the public authority.

It is not reasonable for the government to be expected to release
information in advance of its planned timetable and planned publication,
and there is a strong argument in favour of allowing everyone to view this
information at the same time. The department plans to publish this
information in the first quarter of the year.

For section 43 of the act, the arguments for and against release have been
considered and it is our view that the balance of public interest falls in
favour of maintaining this exemption in relation to the information you
requested.

The awarding of Selective Schools Expansion Fund (SSEF) grants involves
the expenditure of public funds. There is a strong public interest in
ensuring transparency in this process and accountability for publicly
spent money within the department. This is to ensure that the taxpayer is
getting value for money. It is also important to provide the public with
assurance that the SSEF application process is conducted in a fair and
open way.

However, the general public interest in releasing the information
requested must be balanced against the public interest in protecting
commercially sensitive information.  The release of the information of
details of the successful bids may inhibit the school’s ability to
negotiate value for money for the public purse with contractors as it
would weaken their position in negotiations by revealing information which
would provide contractors with a commercial advantage.

The arguments for and against release have been considered and it is our
view that the balance of public interest falls in favour of the
maintenance of this exemption in relation to the information relating to
this request.

The DfE response sent to all successful schools is attached with
redactions where they apply, along with a copy of the post approval
guidance and terms and conditions of funding.

If you are unhappy with the way your request has been handled, you should
make a complaint to the department by writing to me within two calendar
months of the date of this letter. Your complaint will be considered by an
independent review panel, who were not involved in the original
consideration of your request. 

If you are not content with the outcome of your complaint to the
department, you may then contact the Information Commissioner’s Office. 

 

 

Yours sincerely

Lateef Agboola

Correspondence Capital Group

Operations Directorate
Department for Education

Sanctuary Buildings, Level 5

Great Smith Street, Westminster

London SW1P 3BT

 

 

 

 

 

 

Web: [2]https://www.education.gov.uk
Twitter: [3]https://www.twitter.com/educationgovuk
Facebook: [4]https://www.facebook.com/educationgovuk

 

References

Visible links
1. https://www.gov.uk/government/publicatio...
2. https://www.education.gov.uk/
3. https://www.twitter.com/educationgovuk
4. https://www.facebook.com/educationgovuk

Dear Department for Education,

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

I am writing to request an internal review of Department for Education's handling of my FOI request 'SSEF Bids'.

I asked for copies of the SSEF Bids. Bids are submitted to the DfE in Excel spreadsheets. The reply I got was "We plan to publish this information at the below link in February" The link contains what might be a summary of the information I requested but does not contain the information itself.

I have waited until the end of February before checking back to see if you have published the information as you said you would in your reply 8 February but the information is still not there.

Please could you provide this information in the format it was received by the DfE (Excel Spreadsheet). If you seek to refuse all or any of my request please provide a refusal notice which fully complies with section 17 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 explaining which exemption you are rely on and why you feel it applies to my request.

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

Yours faithfully,
James Coombs

MINISTERS, Department for Education

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Thank you for contacting the Department for Education, you will usually
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You can find out how the department processes your personal information by
reading our [1]Privacy Notice.

 

 

References

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Dear Department for Education,

Thank you for confirming receipt of my request for an internal review on 1 March 2019. Please could you provide some indication of when you will be responding in full?

thanks

Yours faithfully,

James Coombs

MINISTERS, Department for Education

1 Attachment

Thank you for contacting the Department for Education, you will usually
receive a reply within 15 working days.

You can find out how the department processes your personal information by
reading our [1]Privacy Notice.

 

 

References

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James Coombs left an annotation ()

Whilst I am on the whole bending over backwards to give the DfE every possible benefit of doubt over when they should respond (waiting until end of Feb before confirming the information they published is not what I asked for) I have just noticed that their automated reply of 1 March said they would reply within 15 *working* days. For some reason I thought it was 15 elapsed days. By their reckoning I should get a response by Friday 22 March.

... whether I get one or not is another matter.

ACCOUNT, Unmonitored, Department for Education

 

Dear Mr Coombs,

I refer to your request for an internal review which was received on 1
March. You requested “an internal review of Department for Education's
handling of my FOI request 'SSEF Bids'.

 

I asked for copies of the SSEF Bids.  Bids are submitted to the DfE in
Excel spreadsheets.  The reply I got was "We plan to publish this
information at the below link in February"  The link contains what might
be a summary of the information I requested but does not contain the
information itself”. 

 

The department has now completed its internal review process and has
carried out a thorough review of the case, chaired by a senior official
who was not involved with the original request. The department has decided
to uphold the original decision not to disclose the information concerned,
for the following reasons:

 

As you may be aware, the Selective School Expansion Fund (SSEF)
application form is comprised of four parts: Part 1 – about the school,
Part 2 – Case for Expansion, Part 3 – Fair Access & Partnership Plan
(FAPP) and Part 4 – Project need, cost and planning. Some schools also
sent in other documentation in support of their applications. In terms of
this information as originally requested (“details of the successful bids
from schools […] for funding under the Selective School Expansion Fund”):

Part 2 – This information is already in the public domain as each school
would have carried out a public consultation.

Part 3 – This information was withheld under s.22 of the FOI Act, as we
intended to publish the details of each successful school’s FAPP.

Part 4 – This information was withheld under s43 as it was considered
commercially sensitive.

 

The information was withheld for the reasons set out in our response to
your original request, dated 7 February.

 

Your request for an internal review concerned the information withheld
under s.22 of the Act, and subsequently published on 11 February, as you
considered it was not published in the format of the original application
form. Your original request of 18 January asked for “details” of the bids,
rather than for copies of the bids in the original format. Although the
published information was not published in the original format, it did
provide the details of the information withheld under s.22. Therefore the
decision to withhold this information was upheld in respect of your
original request.

 

However, I understand from your letter of 1 March, requesting an internal
review of our response to your FOI request, that you are interested in
copies of the successful SSEF bids “in the format it was received by the
DfE (Excel Spreadsheet)”. If you would like us to consider this as a fresh
request for copies of the successful SSEF application forms, I would be
grateful if you could confirm that with us by return via the online form
at [1]https://www.gov.uk/contact-dfe quoting reference 2019-0008715.

 

If you are unhappy with this decision, you have the right to appeal
directly to the Information Commissioner. The Information Commissioner can
be contacted at:

 

           The Case Reception Unit

           Customer Service Team

Information Commissioner’s Office

           Wycliffe House

           Water Lane

           Wilmslow

           Cheshire

           SK9 5AF

 

Further information about the Information Commissioner’s complaints
procedure can be found on the Information Commissioner’s Office website:
[2]https://ico.org.uk/for-organisations/gui....

 

 

Yours sincerely,

 

 Alison Hardacre 

 

Web: [3]https://www.education.gov.uk
Twitter: [4]https://www.twitter.com/educationgovuk
Facebook: [5]https://www.facebook.com/educationgovuk

 

References

Visible links
1. https://www.gov.uk/contact-dfe
2. https://ico.org.uk/for-organisations/gui...
3. https://www.education.gov.uk/
4. https://www.twitter.com/educationgovuk
5. https://www.facebook.com/educationgovuk