I write in response to the content of your e-mail dated 26th April 2016 which refused me access to information requested under the FOI Act. [NOTE: this response, reference CAS-44825, can be viewed on our website via this link].
I am aware that IPSA set a two month time limit on review requests, therefore, please accept the content of this correspondence as a new request.
The content of your e-mail dated 26th April 2016, stated that you were applying Section 43 (2) of the FOIA to withhold the information I had requested. However, having looked into this further I strongly disagree with that decision for the following reason.
Contained within the attached documentation I received from your office dated 11th March 2016 was a detailed breakdown of work undertaken by three (3) different companies; David Beynon BSc Econ MCILT, Sarah Swinglehurst HR Consultancy and Heather Cooper HR Consultancy. All clearly identified the hours worked, the hourly rate charged and more importantly the work undertaken by each company on behalf of the MP’s office. In light of these findings, I consider the refusal of IPSA to reveal the same information relating to White Rock to be highly questionable.
Therefore, I would appreciate copies of all time-sheets, showing hours worked, hourly rate charged and more importantly the work undertaken by White Rock on behalf of former MP for Swansea East Sian James and current MP Caroline Harris.
Under the MPs’ Scheme of Business Costs and Expenses (‘the Scheme’), all claims for reimbursement must be supported by evidence. As such, we hold all supporting documentation provided in support of claims made by MPs.
Section 43 – Commercial interests
As in our previous response, we are again withholding information which would reveal the hourly rate charged by Whiterock Consulting, as disclosure of this information would be likely to prejudice the commercial interests of the supplier.
Section 43 of the FOIA provides an exemption for information which is commercially sensitive, where disclosure would, or would be likely to, prejudice the commercial interests of any person (including the public authority holding it). You can find out more about this exemption from the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), who have produced the following guidance: https://ico.org.uk/media/for-organisations/documents/1178/awareness_guidance_5_v3_07_03_08.pdf
In considering this exemption, we have again balanced the competing public interest arguments for and against disclosure. In addition, we have received specific representations from the supplier which we are bound to consider as part of our judgement as to whether the exemption should be applied.
IPSA believes in transparency, and publishes details of all claims made by MPs on our publication website. In this instance, we believe that the public interest in assuring the public has already been fulfilled by:
- the active publication of amounts paid to the supplier on a monthly basis on our publication website;
- images of the invoices associated with these claims, which have already been disclosed under a previous FOIA request, available on our website, which also provide the monthly amount paid to the company; and
- images of the timesheets disclosed under the previous request, which provide assurance that IPSA has been provided with sufficient information to effectively validate the claim(s) in question.
We do not believe that the disclosure of information revealing the hourly rate charged by the supplier, which would have the effect of prejudicing the commercial interests of the supplier, contributes in a significantly meaningful manner to the public interest. As such, we do not consider that the public interest in disclosure outweighs the application of the exemption and we are therefore applying the exemption at Section 43 (2) of the FOIA to withhold the information requested.
You may wish to contact the company directly for further information relating to fees charged and services provided.