I suspect that this sudden change of heart was due to the underwear-soiling prospect of the Council’s top bosses being dragged before a judge for denying people their legal rights.
However, the questions which come into my mind are how could the Council's second most senior finance officer, who is line managed by Chief Executive Sue McGonigal, make such a fundamental legal and procedural mistake? This person has managed many annual audit processes over the years surely she must know what the rules are in relation to the inspection and copying of documents?
Also how much has this farce costed. The Financial Services Manager obviously spent time considering my request and probably took advice from colleagues. Thanet Council's legal officer has also spent time checking his law books and seeking advice. Furthermore, how many other people have been told by the Council's Financial Services Manager that they can't copy the accounts related documents they have inspected. All of these people will now have to be contacted and told that the Council has infringed their legal rights.
|NICE GUY HARVEY??|
Here is the e-mail exchange between Harvey P and myself.
Dear Mr Patterson
Thank you for your e-mail. I am pleased that the Council has changed its mind about my copying documents.
I am not pleased that you are still resisting my efforts to see, copy and publish key documents related to the Transeuropa debt scandal. I will be raising my discontent with the Auditor and, when the FOI internal review period comes to an end next week, I will of course by complaining to the Information Commissioner. If Commissioner rules in my favour I will copy and publish all the documents related to secret deal with TEF which has cost this hard-pushed Council £3.3 million it can scarcely afford to loose.
I am aware of one other person who Sarah Martin has told will not be able to copy documents related to the inspection of the Council's accounts. I assume that this person will now be written to and advised that he can copy the documents as well.
Please tell me how many people have asked to inspect the Council accounts and related documents since the accounts were opened for inspection on 15th July. How many of these people have been told that they are not allowed to copy documents?
On the assumption that Ms Martin has applied her unlawful copying ban on everyone inspecting the accounts then it is incumbent upon the council to contact all these people to apologise for infringing their legal rights and to offer the opportunity for them to come back and copy the documents they were interested in, even if this means extending the inspection period.
I look forward to hearing from you on this matter.
Councillor Ian Driver
Dear Councillor Driver
Thank you for copying me in on you e-mails of yesterday's date concerning the above matter.
I have reviewed what you say and considered both the Audit Commission Act 1998 and the Accounts & Audit (England) Regulations 2011.
Regulation 9 of the 2011 Regulations provides that the relevant body (the Council) must makes its accounts available for public inspection (my emphasis) for 20 working days before the date appointed by the Auditor under Regulation 21 (being the date on or after which electors can question the auditor about the accounts or make objections to them). There is no right to make copies of any part of the accounts on the face of the 2011 Regulations, which is why Sarah Martin reached the conclusion that she did.
However, as you point out, this is addressed in Section 15 (1) (b) of the Audit Commission Act 1998 which provides that the accounts and any supporting books, deeds, contracts bills and vouchers and receipts that are subject to a right of inspection, may also be copied. Accordingly, when you are able to exercise your right to inspect the accounts (given your inablity to make the appointment fixed for 26 July 2013 the Council will provide you with two alternative dates), I am pleased to confirm that facilities willl be made available for you to make copies of any of the relevant documentation should you wish to do so.
Turning to the debt deferral arrangement withg Transeuropa NV which you assert is a document you are entitled to inspect , I regret that I must disagree with you as it is manifestly not a ' book , deed , bill, voucher or receipt' nor is it a 'contract' in that the decision by the Council to re-schedule the debt was a matter of concesssion, not a matter of contractual obligation nor is this view altered by the fact that reference is made to this arrangement in the preamble to the accounts, as this cannot transform the document into a book, deed, contract, bill, voucher or receipt.
Moreover, going back to first principles, the right to inspect books deeds, contracts bills etc that relate to an item in the accounts is conferred on electors to enable them to have sufficient information to be able to question the auditor about the accounts or to challenge an item in the accounts. Consequently, even if the debt deferral arrangement was a 'contract', you would still not be entitled to inspect and make copies of it because, following the decision of full Council on 11 July 2013 to re-state and deal with the Transeuropa debt in the 2012/13 accounts, is is clear that the debt deferral arrangement no longer has any relevance to the treatment of the debt in the 2012/13 accounts.
In conclusion, I trust that you will now accept that the Council has no intention of denying you the inspection and copying rights conferred by the 1998 Act and the 2011 Regulations. In addition, if you are not satisfied with my explanation concerning the debt deferral arrangement, you are at liberty to refer this to the auditor.
Corporate & Regulatory Services Manager
Thanet District Council
Tel: 01843 577005