EDDC fights to keep reports private

EDDC HQ Knowle

EDDC HQ Knowle - Credit: Archant

District bosses have argued at a tribunal that reports to committee meetings about the future of Knowle should not be made public.

East Devon District Council (EDDC) was ordered by the Information Commissioner to release reports given to behind-closed-doors working party meetings on its proposed relocation.

This decision came after the authority refused a freedom of information request from Sidmouth resident Jeremy Woodward, to release the reports - as well as the committee minutes.

The commissioner backed the council’s decision not to release the latter.

Rather than make public the reports, the council opted to appeal the decision.

This was heard in a tribunal held at Exeter Magistrates, Court last week.

A packed public gallery watched as relocation project manager Steve Pratten and EDDC deputy chief executive Richard Cohen were quizzed on the former’s role.

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The council argued that, although Mr Pratten was brought in as an expert consultant from firm Davis Langdon, he was embedded so deeply within the authority that his work should have the same protection as internal reports by officers.

The tribunal was told that Mr Pratten spent the vast majority of his time at the council, and had only had ‘four or five’ informal, ten minute meetings with his bosses at Davis Langdon about the project in two years.

Mr Cohen said it was Mr Pratten himself, not Davis Langdon as a company, who was embedded in EDDC.

He added: “I wanted to know who the project manager was going to be. Steve spends the vast majority of his time with the council.”

Mr Cohen said that, although Mr Pratten’s committee reports were produced using a Davis Langdon template, members were in no doubt that they were the council’s.

He added: “The front and back of reports look like Davis Langdon, but the content is a Steve Pratten report.

“First and foremost [members are] looking at a report from Steve Pratten, our project manager.

“As far as they are concerned it is a report I have agreed.”

Mr Cohen also said Mr Pratten’s decision-making powers were: “No different, I think, than you would see from officers of the council.”

When asked what the effect would be if the reports were public, Mr Cohen said: “If this information finds its way into the public domain, that can cause us difficulties.”

A decision from the tribunal is expected within two to three weeks.