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Various questions on contingency policy
F1314-051a
Disclosure Date:23 Jul 2013
Categories: CONTINGENCY FUNDING
Exemptions Applied: Section 31 Section 36 Section 42
Request
  1. Please can you provide the details of what information has been provided to the IPSA board to help formulate the policy you outline in point 1 below to refuse on principle all requests for contingency grants to cover the cost of additional staffing to cope with increased MP casework levels. I would like copies of all correspondence, research, emails and any minutes of meetings that have taken place between your team and the IPSA board to enable them to help make this decision. Please treat this request as an FOI if necessary.

 

  1. My request for assistance refers to an increase in demands on MPs and increase in casework in the last year. Whilst your letter acknowledges that this has occurred, I am unclear as to what information IPSA has on this matter. Please can you confirm that since the 2012 review no research or investigation has been undertaken by IPSA into MPs workloads during this period. If IPSA has undertaken such research please can you provide copies of this and the findings. Again please treat this as an FOI request if necessary.

 

  1. Further to your response to point 4 below where you state that IPSA does not consider there to be any impact on communities with a protected characteristic under the Equalities Act 2010.  Please provide the evidence for this statement. For example has IPSA undertaken any research into the nature of constituencies where increases in casework have been identified, or requested information from MPs about this matter on which to found such an opinion. Please also provide the guidance IPSA has received on this matter or details of the organisations or individuals advising IPSA on this point.

 

  1. I note that you have decided to treat my request for details regarding the internship contracts as an FOI request. Please can you clarify from which date you will treat this request as having been made given the length of time between my original enquiry and your response. I'm also concerned that should I use these contracts I would require the legal advice which underpins them to ensure that I do not use them inappropriately- please can you provide this to me. 
Response

IPSA holds some of the information that you request.

 

Taking your questions in turn:

  1. Please can you provide the details of what information has been provided to the IPSA board to help formulate the policy you outline in point 1 below to refuse on principle all requests for contingency grants to cover the cost of additional staffing to cope with increased MP casework levels. I would like copies of all correspondence, research, emails and any minutes of meetings that have taken place between your team and the IPSA board to enable them to help make this decision. Please treat this request as an FOI if necessary.

 

The information provided to the Board constituted a Board paper and accompanying annexes, setting out the issue, giving background information, providing a recommendation and advice to the Board to assist them in reaching their decision.  Discussions between the policy team and IPSA’s Board took place at two Board meetings: 27 March 2013 and 22 April 2013.  The Board, at the meeting of 27 March 2013, concluded that contingency applications should continue to be handled on a case-by-case basis, that care should be taken that long-term commitments are not created that could only be met through contingency and that contingency uplifts should remain exceptional and not become a mechanism to address situations where budgets had not been properly managed by MPs.

 

In a meeting of the contingency panel on 9 April 2013, it was agreed that the panel would not approve any further staffing uplifts except in the most exceptional, unforeseen and unavoidable circumstances.

 

This approach was subsequently taken back to the Board at the meeting of 22 April 2013, and the Board endorsed the conclusion of the Contingency Panel and agreed that “it would inappropriate for IPSA to provide further contingency funding for MPs solely on the basis of increased casework, given the significant increase in staffing budgets made in 2012/13”.

 

Release of Board minutes

We routinely publish on our website minutes of IPSA Board meetings and minutes of the Board meetings mentioned above may be viewed via this link to the Transparency section of our website.

 

The FOIA states that information that is easily accessible by other means is not subject to release.  Therefore, as the information you have requested is already available on our website it is exempt from disclosure under section 21 of the FOIA (information accessible to applicant by other means).

 

Release of Board paper

It is in our view that some of the information held in the Board paper constitutes advice given to the Board to assist them in making their decision and that, if released, would, or would likely to, inhibit the free and frank provision of advice and the free and frank exchange of views for the purpose of deliberation and prejudice the effective conduct of public affairs.

 

Our qualified person, as designated by the Lord Chancellor under s.36(5)(o)(iii) of the FOIA, undertook a public interest test to assess whether the public interest in withholding the information outweighs the public interest in disclosure in relation to the s.36 exemption.

 

The public interest balancing exercise was conducted in relation to the engagement of the exemption at s.36(2)(b) (free and frank provision of advice and exchange of views) and s.36(2)(c) (effective conduct of public affairs) of the Act.  In doing so, our qualified person considered the Board Paper requested and the arguments for and against applying s.36.

 

Our qualified person considered that the presumption of Freedom of Information legislation is that information should be released on request.  He also considered whether releasing the information requested would, or would likely to, inhibit the free and frank provision of advice and the free and frank exchange of views for the purpose of deliberation or otherwise prejudice, or would be likely otherwise to prejudice, the effective conduct of public affairs.

 

In balancing the arguments, our qualified person has commented as follows:

“[NAME REDACTED] has requested information relating to IPSA's present policy for determining staffing contingency applications made on the basis of increased casework. In particular she asks for the information provided to the IPSA Board for their consideration when formulating the Board's policy.  The information was provided to the Board by a Board Paper dated 26th March 2013 written by the Director of Policy and Communications, John Sills.

 

In determining whether in my reasonable opinion some or all of that Board Paper should be exempt from disclosure as being likely to inhibit the free and frank provision of advice or the free and frank exchange of views for the purposes of deliberation or would otherwise prejudice, or would be likely otherwise to prejudice, the effective conduct of public affairs I have given full weight to the presumption in the FOIA that information should be released on request and to the principle that there is a legitimate public interest in understanding how decisions are reached within a public authority.

 

In my judgement the Board Paper itself should be disclosed, but with a number of redactions in accordance with the copy of the Paper supplied to me. I have fully considered the paper in its unredacted form, and carefully examined each proposed redaction: in each case the redacted passage would, if disclosed, be likely to prejudice the effective conduct of public affairs or inhibit the free and frank provision of advice and exchange of views. The redactions made leave the substance of the Board Paper largely intact. The Paper, even in its redacted form, makes clear the nature and extent of the staffing contingency applications made on the basis of increased casework and sets out the suggested possible options open to the Board.

 

I accordingly give as the qualified person my reasonable opinion that the proposed redactions all fall within the exemptions provided in Section 36.”

 

 

Our qualified person has, therefore, applied s.36(2)(b) and (c) of the Act to exempt some of the requested information from being released.  Please find attached a redacted version of the Board paper in line with the advice provided by our qualified person.

 

Please also find attached the following annexes, which accompany the attached Board paper:

  • Annex A contains the total figures for contingency panel uplifts approved to date;
  • Annex B provides our published response to an FOI request relating to contingency applications; and
  • Annex C contains an example of a staffing contingency application relevant to the Board paper, which has already been published on our website in a redacted form, in response to an FOI request. We have provided this in its redacted form, as published on our website.

 

  1. My request for assistance refers to an increase in demands on MPs and increase in casework in the last year. Whilst your letter acknowledges that this has occurred, I am unclear as to what information IPSA has on this matter. Please can you confirm that since the 2012 review no research or investigation has been undertaken by IPSA into MPs workloads during this period. If IPSA has undertaken such research please can you provide copies of this and the findings. Again please treat this as an FOI request if necessary.

 

We can confirm that no further research or investigation has been undertaken relating to MPs’ workloads.

 

  1. Further to your response to point 4 below where you state that IPSA does not consider there to be any impact on communities with a protected characteristic under the Equalities Act 2010.  Please provide the evidence for this statement. For example has IPSA undertaken any research into the nature of constituencies where increases in casework have been identified, or requested information from MPs about this matter on which to found such an opinion. Please also provide the guidance IPSA has received on this matter or details of the organisations or individuals advising IPSA on this point.

 

In an email to you of 15 May 2013, Mr Sills explained IPSA’s decision not to offer extra contingency funding for casework and that it did not, in IPSA’s view, have a disproportionate impact on any of the protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010.  Mr Sills went on to explain that IPSA provides a level of funding and it is for the individual MP to decide how to deploy those funds.  IPSA have not sought advice on this matter.

 

  1. I note that you have decided to treat my request for details regarding the internship contracts as an FOI request. Please can you clarify from which date you will treat this request as having been made given the length of time between my original enquiry and your response. I'm also concerned that should I use these contracts I would require the legal advice which underpins them to ensure that I do not use them inappropriately- please can you provide this to me. 

 

IPSA received legal advice in 2010.

 

We are withholding this information under Section 42 (1) of the Freedom of Information Act which states that:

 

“Information in respect of which a claim to legal professional privilege or, in Scotland, to confidentiality of communications could be maintained in legal proceedings is exempt information.”

 

Section 42 of the FOIA provides an exemption for information that is protected by Legal Professional Privilege (LPP).  For the purposes of the exemption, this covers communications between professional legal advisers and their clients, specifically for the purpose of obtaining legal advice, or documents created specifically for the purpose of litigation.

 

We have considered the public interest arguments, for and against release of the information you request. 

 

The arguments considered in favour of disclosure:

  • there is an inbuilt presumption in the FOI legislation that information requested should be released on request; and
  • there is a legitimate public interest in understanding how decisions are reached within a public body;

 

The arguments considered against disclosure:

  • there is a strong inbuilt public interest in maintaining the principle of LPP.

 

After carefully considering the opposing public interest arguments in favour of engaging the exemption and in favour of releasing the information, there is, we believe, a strong and overriding public interest in maintaining the principle of legal professional privilege and, in turn, ensuring that the openness in communications between lawyers and clients is preserved and that the administration of justice is assured.  We are, therefore, refusing this part of your request under section 42 of the FOIA.