What are the terms of any agreement between the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority and Apex Communications, specifically the term of any contract, its value (amounts paid to Apex) and what services Apex Communications provides to Ipsa.
The service provided by Apex was to provide advice on external communications issues, which consisted of providing help with responses to enquiries from the press and the public. The service was for a period when IPSA did not have a full complement of communications staff and at a time where there was strong interest in the operation of the new expenses scheme.
The terms of the contract between Apex and IPSA are commercially sensitive. In IPSA’s view the disclosure of this information is therefore exempt under Section 43(2) of the FOIA (Commercial interests). The engagement of this qualified exemption requires an explanation of the competing public interest arguments surrounding its use. Arguments in favour of disclosure include transparency in the accountability of public funds, that public authorities are getting value for money and conducting procurement activities in an open and honest way. The competing argument that weighs in favour of withholding the requested information is that to do so would prejudice IPSA’s commercial interests by affecting adversely its bargaining position during any future contractual negotiations, which would result in the less effective use of public money. It is IPSA’s view that the public interest is therefore best served by the continued engagement of this exemption.