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Information relating to the European Research Group (ERG)
CAS-92438
Disclosure Date:5 Oct 2017
Categories: MPs' OFFICE COSTS MPs' STAFFING
Exemptions Applied: Section 21 Section 22 Section 43 Section 40
Request
  1. The total amount paid to the European Research Group for each of the last three years;
  2. The names of each MP whose expenses go to the European Research Group and the amount attributed to each one for each of the last three years,
  3. All reports into spending by the European Research Group,
  4. The salary and pension contributions paid to Christopher Howarth out of these expenses and his employment contract,
  5. All correspondence between Ipsa and Christopher Howarth,
  6. All accounts and itemised spending made by the European Research Group in each of the last three years,
  7. All information held on Christopher Howarth,
  8. All examples of research done for the European Research Group held by IPSA.

 

Response

Under the terms of the Scheme of MPs’ Business Costs and Expenses (‘the Scheme’), MPs can claim the costs of payments for pooled staffing services, which provide research, briefing and drafting services to groups of MPs. There are currently five such services which are registered with IPSA: the Parliamentary Research Service (for Labour MPs); the Policy Research Unit (for Conservative MPs); the Scottish National Party Research Team (for SNP MPs); the Parliamentary Support Team (for Liberal Democrat MPs) and the European Research Group, which provides briefings to Conservative MPs on issues relating to the UK’s relationship with the European Union.

Currently, MPs can claim for subscriptions to such services in one of two ways:

  • IPSA can pay subscription fees directly to the service provider; or
  • a reimbursement claim can be submitted to the online expenses system.

As with other types of expenditure claimed under the Scheme, a reimbursement claim must be accompanied by documentary evidence in the form of an invoice signed by the subscribing MP.

I will take your requests for information in turn.

  1. The total amount paid to the European Research Group for each of the last three years
  2. The names of each MP whose expenses go to the European Research Group and the amount attributed to each one for each of the last three years

Details of all claims made by MPs are published on our website.

To view claims made by MPs for ERG subscriptions, please visit: http://www.theipsa.org.uk/mp-costs/other-published-data/.

Using the drop-down menu at the top of the page, you will need to select a financial year alongside the option for ‘individual claims’, which will open a spreadsheet containing all individual claims made that financial year. You can filter on either the ‘Details’ or ‘Short Description’ columns for ‘ERG’ to identify relevant claims.

This will provide you with the names of all MPs who have made claims for subscriptions to the ERG in each financial year, alongside the total amount paid.

The FOIA states that information that is 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).

  • All reports into spending by the European Research Group

As part of our core regulatory function, and to assure both ourselves and the public that public funds claimed are in accordance with the Scheme’s rules, we conduct regular assurance reviews on different areas of spending, including that related to pooled staffing services. We last conducted such a review in 2016, during which we examined all expenditure claimed by MPs relating to such services, reviewed the governance and operations of each service and scrutinised examples of output material.

Our report on the 2016 review is scheduled to be published in full later this year, and contains details on each service’s structure, operations and funding. Section 22(1) of the FOIA states that information intended for future publication is exempt from release.

We have considered whether the public interest in releasing the information outweighs the application of the exemption. It is our opinion that the public interest is best served by publishing the report in its finalised form, as opposed to draft form. It is for this reason that the application of the exemption outweighs the public interest in disclosure at this stage.

  • The salary and pension contributions paid to Christopher Howarth out of these expenses and his employment contract

The individual in question is not employed by an MP or paid through IPSA’s payroll. The ERG is a private (third-party) organisation and we do not hold this information.

  • All correspondence between Ipsa and Christopher Howarth

As part of our assurance review, we contacted each of the pooled staffing services. In this capacity, we hold a small amount of correspondence exchanged with Mr Howarth regarding the activities and operations of the ERG.

In accordance with section 40(2) of the FOIA, we have withheld this correspondence which contains the personal data of Mr Howarth and which, if disclosed, would breach the fair processing principle (Principle 1) of the DPA (where it would be unfair to those persons or is confidential). You can find out more information about personal data and FOI via guidance from the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) on their website: http://ico.org.uk.

  • All accounts and itemised spending made by the European Research Group in each of the last three years

The ERG is a private (third-party) organisation and we do not hold this information.

  • All information held on Christopher Howarth

Information relating to a living, identifiable person is their personal data, as defined by the Data Protection Act (DPA) 1998. Section 40(2) of the FOIA provides that personal information about third parties is exempt information if disclosure would breach the fair processing principle (Principle 1) of the DPA, where it would be unfair to those persons or is confidential. You can find out more information about personal data and FOI via guidance from the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) on their website: http://ico.org.uk.

  • All examples of research done for the European Research Group held by IPSA.

As noted above, as part of our assurance review we scrutinised examples of material produced by each of the pooled staffing services. This is content for which a subscription payment is normally made and was provided to us in confidence in order for us to exercise our statutory regulatory functions.

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). Disclosing such content would directly prejudice the commercial interests of the ERG as the content can only otherwise be obtained via a paid subscription. We have considered whether the public interest in maintaining the exemption outweighs the public interest in disclosure and concluded that the balance is in favour of withholding the information.  As such, we are applying the exemption at Section 43 (2) of the FOIA to withhold the information requested.