Total Annual Figures for Compromise Agreements, etc.

Paul Cardin made this Freedom of Information request to South Bucks 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 successful.

Dear South Bucks District Council,

Please supply Annual totals for the followig:

As far as records go back, the annual figures for the total
of current employees / ex-employees (including teaching staff) of the Council who have signed compromise agreements directly related to the resolving of dispute(s) / grievance(s) / internal and external investigation(s) / whistleblowing incident(s).

In addition to this, annual figures for the number of current employees / ex-employees (including teaching staff) who have agreed, following the matter being raised and made conditional as part of a compromise agreement drawn up by the body acting as the Council's legal team, to sign and forgo their right to approach the council in the future with Freedom of Information and/or DPA Subject Access requests under the relevant Acts.

Please provide the figures in the following format e.g. 2006 - 2; 2007 - 4; 2008 - 0; 2010 - 6; etc.

Please note that I do not seek or require any personal information such as names and addresses – only the total figures for each subject area.

Yours faithfully,

Paul Cardin

Dear South Bucks District Council,

By law, I believe the authority should have responded promptly and
by 1st February 2011.

Although I have received no response, to assist, and as an act of good faith, I would like to reduce the scope of the original request as follows:
Please exclude all COT3 Agreements and all compromise agreements
drawn up in the following circumstances:

1. Purely redundancy situations
2. Purely PILON (pay in lieu of notice) situations
3. Equal pay claims
4. TUPE situations
5. Purely voluntary severance situations

Further to this, please reduce the time period to the years between
2005 and 2010 i.e. the last six years.

I am researching this particular area and aim to view trends and
movements both regionally and nationally. It would benefit myself
and the authority if the figures reached were as accurate as
possible.

When responding, please give figures in calendar year format e.g.
2005 - 1; 2006 - 3; 2007 - 2; etc.

Yours faithfully,

Paul Cardin

Zoe Bloomfield,

FAO Paul Cardin

Whatdotheyknow.com

Dear Sir

In considering your request under the provisions of the Freedom of
Information Act 2000 I can confirm that South Bucks District Council holds
the information requested in relation to employee compromise agreements.
I should make you aware that this Council does not employ teachers as it
does not provide education services. This is a function of
Buckinghamshire County Council. Having considered the request the
Council considers the exemption under S40(2) by virtue of S40(3)(a)(i)
applies. This provides an exemption for personal data of a third party.
The condition requires firstly for the information to be personal
information under the Data Protection Act (DPA) and secondly that the
disclosure of it would contravene the first data protection principle.
Full disclosure of this information would be unfair because of the
existence of compromise agreements between the parties
and their reasonable expectation of confidentiality. The Act is applicant
blind and any disclosure therefore would be available to the public at
large. If information were to be disclosed it would be available to any
member of the public.

In order to rely on the exemption provided by section 40 the information
requested must constitute personal data as defined by section 1 of the DPA

'... data which relate to a living individual who can be identified a)
from those data, or b) from those data and other information which is in
the possession of, or is likely to come into the possession of, the data
controller ... '

The full disclosure of statistical data presented in year format and by
function area as requested would enable the means to deduce personal
identity because South Bucks District Council is a relatively small
authority and the Council considers this to be unfair.

In taking this view, the Council has had due regard to the public
interest test and considers the damage and distress likely to be caused to
those individuals concerned outweighs the full public disclosure of the
requested information. It is the Council's decision therefore that the
prevailing public interest lies in partially withholding some of the
requested information.

The response to your request therefore is:

For the period 2000-2010 there were 6 compromise agreements for this
Council.

None of the compromise agreements required the employee to sign and forgo
their right of access to information under the provisions of the Freedom
of Information Act 2000 or subject access rights under the Data
Protection Act 1998.

I hope this answers your questions but if you feel that it does not, you
can contact me with your queries. You also have the right to request an
internal review of your request and ultimately to complain to the
Information Commissioner should you still be unhappy with the outcome.
You should direct any queries or complaints to me before progressing any
complaint to the Information Commissioner. If you would like more
information about the role and work of the Information Commissioner go to
their website [1]www.ico.gov.uk.

Yours faithfully

Zoë Bloomfield
Corporate Information Officer
Legal Services
South Bucks District Council
Capswood
Oxford Road
Denham
Bucks UB9 4LH

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References

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Dear Zoe Bloomfield,

Thank you for your response, and for confirming that the council doesn't use gagging clauses related to FOI / DPA in relation to its compromise agreements.

I am however, inclined to disagree with your findings regarding the risk of identifying individuals in receipt of compromise agreements.

To give you some broader context, I have made this approach to ALL English Councils in the interests of research and to view trends and movements both regionally and nationally. To date, I have received 190 full and positive responses to the query - including a large number from similarly sized or smaller councils who did not see any risk in providing annual totals, which included figures of 1 or 2 for some years.

It's my conclusion that the level of public interest in releasing this data outweighs the risk involved in identifying individual recipients of compromise agreements. That conclusion also appears to be shared by a large number of local authority respondents - your own LGA colleagues.

In the light of the above information, I'd ask that you take some days to reconsider your approach. I would not want to take this to internal review so quickly without giving you the opportunity to have a rethink - and also to weigh up the adverse impact on public funds that an internal review will bring,

many thanks in advance,

Yours sincerely,

Paul Cardin

Zoe Bloomfield,

FAO Paul Cardin

What Do They Know

Dear Sir

Following your request dated 7 February 2011 for an internal review to
examine the Council's response to your original Freedom of Information
request a meeting was held on 17 February to consider your 'inclination to
disagree with the public interest test' applied in this case. The meeting
comprised Jim Burness, Director of Resources and Zoë Bloomfield,
Corporate Information Officer.

You comment that you have received 190 positive responses to the same FOI
request and that you seek statistical information for research purposes is
noted.

There are 387 English Authorities of varying workforce sizes, covering a
diverse range of geographical areas and demographics. South Bucks District
Council has an average headcount of 150 within its establishment. Many of
its officers have more than ten years of service and as one would expect
there is a legacy of community history among the workforce.

Comparison of this authority to other English authorities which have a
higher density of staff is taking an imbalanced and skewed perspective.
The circumstances for this Council is somewhat different and when applying
the public interest test it was important to consider the following

FOR

Nil

AGAINST

The test of whether the information is truly anonymised is whether any
member of the public could identify the individuals by cross-referencing
the anonymised data with information or knowledge already available to the
public. In this context, the local knowledge of staff past and present
within a specifically defined time, space and place borderline would
likely facilitate easy identification by combining apparently anonymous
data with other knowledge, and would be rather like the missing piece of
the jigsaw.

Financial information relating to staff costs is published in the annual
end of year accounts and is accessible electronically via the Council's
website or inspection at its offices for the purpose of public scrutiny.
Accordingly it is for this reason the Council upholds its decision to rely
on the exemption S 40(2) by virtue of S40(3)(a)(i) [third-party personal
data] and therefore limit disclosure to a summary figure in accordance
with first principle of the Data Protection Act.

If you remain dissatisfied with the response you have a right to appeal to
the Information Commissioner at:

The Information Commissioner's Office, Wycliffe House, Water Lane,
Wilmslow, Cheshire, SK9 5AF website [1]www.ico.gov.uk telephone 0303 123
1113

Yours faithfully

Zoë Bloomfield
Corporate Information Officer
Legal Services
South Bucks District Council
Capswood
Oxford Road
Denham
Bucks UB9 4LH

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Dear South Bucks District Council,

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

I am writing to request an internal review of South Bucks District Council's handling of my FOI request 'Total Annual Figures for Compromise Agreements, etc.'.

Please re-check my email of 7th February in which you stated I requested an 'internal review'. I did not. However this IS a request for an internal review.

Given that my research is moving onwards and a total of 238 councils have responded positively and in full to an identical question, I believe you are wrong not to provide annual figures and that hundreds of your LGA colleagues appear to agree with me that the public interest in releasing total annual figures outweighs the public interest in releasing a total number for the period 2005 to 2010. I believe that this test of the public interest applies to all councils, regardless of their size, because the risk of identifying individuals is exceedingly small.

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

Yours faithfully,

Paul Cardin

Zoe Bloomfield,

Paul Cardin FAO Paul Cardin
What Do They Know

Dear Sir

Thank you for your email requesting a review. This is to confirm receipt
of your request is acknowledged and a response will be sent in due
course.

Yours faithfully

Zoë Bloomfield
Corporate Information Officer
Legal Services
South Bucks District Council
Capswood
Oxford Road
Denham
Bucks UB9 4LH

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Chris Furness,

Dear Mr. Cardin,
Request
57236-dfcf437d

I refer to your request for an internal review on your FOI submission.

I have conducted the review and have looked at the issues carefully and
also reviewed all the previous correspondence in the light of the Ministry
of Justice guidance and have reached a conclusion. I have discussed that
conclusion with the Information Officer so that she can take my decision
into account when dealing with future similar requests.

My decision is that the Council should provide the figures you have asked
for in relation to Compromise Agreements in the format in which you have
asked for it and so I have set out the relevant information later in this
letter.

In considering your request I have tried to strike the balance between the
provisions of the Freedom of Information Act and the Data Protection Act
so that my conclusion is fair to the individual whilst being founded on
the principle that information should be freely available unless that
fairness principle would be breached by disclosure. I believe that whilst
it is theoretically possible that individuals could be identified as a
consequence of the small size of the Council and the low numbers of such
agreements in each year, nevertheless the likelihood that the necessary
pieces of information can or would be brought together is low and would
require knowledge which is unlikely to be possessed by anyone outside the
Council.
On that basis it is my view that the public interest in disclosing
overrides the low risk of identification.

You asked for information for the years 2000 to 2010 - which is as far as
our records go back - of the numbers of staff who have signed compromise
agreements related to the resolving of disputes/grievances, external or
internal investigations or whistleblowing incidents. You then reduced
your request to the period 2005 to 2010 and excluded various situations in
particular redundancy, PILON and voluntary severance. Nevertheless I have
provided figures based on your original request as I am happy to supply
those to you and we do have details going back to 2000.

The figures are : year 2000 - one
year 2001 - one
years 2002 to 2005 - nil
year 2006 - two
year 2007 - two
years 2008 to 2010 - nil

None of the above were teaching staff as previously explained, none were
asked to sign and forgo their rights of access to information under FOI or
DPA as previously explained.

I hope this response is helpful to you, please let me know if I have not
answered your enquiry fully.

Yours sincerely,

Chris Furness
Chief Executive,
South Bucks District Council
Capswood, Oxford Road,
Denham, Bucks UB9 4LH
01895 837340

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subject to recording and/or monitoring to meet relevant legislative
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therefore may be disclosed to a third party. This email and any files
transmitted with it are confidential and intended solely for the use of the
individual or entity to whom they are addressed. If you are not the intended
recipient, the use of the information by disclosure, copying or distribution is
prohibited and may be unlawful. If you have received this email in error please
notify the system administrator at [2][email address] . This
footnote also confirms that this email message has been swept for the presence
of computer viruses.
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References

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Dear Chris Furness,

Thank you very much for the positive response and for taking the time to weigh up the issues carefully before providing your answer,

Yours sincerely,

Paul Cardin

Paul Cardin left an annotation ()

South Bucks District Council went to review, reconsidered and decided in favour of supplying the information.

Please link here to read about the further aspects of this request:

www.easyvirtualassistance.co.uk/page4.html

...including councils who have attempted to prevent individuals from exercising their statutory FOI / DP querying rights.

There is a growing trend for the use of compromise agreements, not just in the area of disputes or whistleblowing, but also in general redundancy or equal pay claims. Some councils have yet to answer this query - and to date, 65 working days have elapsed