Open up — or face court, council told

TOWN Hall chiefs have been threatened with High Court action amid claims they have breached the Freedom of Information Act.

Bolton Council is refusing to divulge the names of officers who attended a training course which cost taxpayers almost £30,000.

Now Deputy Information Commissioner David Smith has issued a decision notice against the authority telling it to open up — or face being held in contempt of court.

He has given the council 35 days to disclose the names of the four employees who attended leadership development courses run by training company Common Purpose.

If it does not, Information Commissioner Christopher Graham could make representations to the High Court that the council has breached the act.

Any breach of the Freedom of Information Act can result in a charge of contempt of court. The Act was introduced to encourage openness and transparency from public bodies and give people access to official information.

Breightmet resident John Greenwood submitted a Freedom of Information request in April asking for details of how much the council had spent with Common Purpose, copies of invoices and the names of officers who had received training from the not-forprofit organisation.

The council sent details of the cost of the courses, copies of the invoices it had on record but redacted — blanked out — the name and job title of staff who had attended the various courses.

Mr Greenwood said: “The council has spent more than £28,000 of taxpayers’ money on sending senior officers on these courses and I felt that it was of public interest to find out who exactly these people were.”

Common Purpose meetings have attracted controversy in the past for being held under Chatham House Rule, which essentially keeps the identity of speakers or other participants secret.

Mr Greenwood added: “I do not think this is good for democracy that key decision makers, who are beyond public scrutiny, are attending these kind of courses in secret.”

In his report, Mr Smith said the council had been correct in withholding information such as invoice numbers and bank accounts but had incorrectly withheld the names of four officers, prompting his decision notice.

A council spokesman said: “We have received the request from the Information Commissioner and we are considering our response in light of this request.”

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