FOI: Journalists given green light to see register of interests for council officers

A council’s register of interests relating to councillors has long been something worth having a look through if you’re a journalist – but what about the register of interests relating to council officers?

Now, thanks to the determination of one man, the Information Commissioner has ruled that the public should also have access to details of the interests of council officers.

The Bolton News reports that transparency campaigner John Greenwood had asked under FOI for access to the register held of council officers interests. Bolton Council said no, and so the fight began.

It culminated in the Information Commissioner ruling that Bolton Council should release certain parts of the register within the next 35 days. The information which the Information Commissioner says should be released from registers of interests include:

  • Names
  • Department
  • Section
  • Name and address and nature of additional business, or  other employment
  • Name and address of Company, firm or other body or individual of whom consultancy is undertaken and nature of the consultancy with an indication of frequency or volume of such work.
  • Name and address and nature of business of each company or other body of which you are a Director, with an  indication of whether it is in a paid or unpaid capacity.
  • Name and address and nature of business of each firm with which you are a partner
  • Name and address and nature of business of each company  in which you hold shares
  • Name and address of the organisation to whom you are engaged on a retainer basis and nature of the retainer

However, he also said some information should be withheld, including:

  • Address or description of land or property in which you have an interest, the nature of the interest and the use to which the land  is put
  • List any organisation with which you have Membership/association, including clubs and societies
  • List any voluntary bodies of which you have Membership or  association
  • Please give any further information you may wish to record about  your business or financial interests.

Potentially a big breakthrough – and presumably a prompt for journalists across the country to start asking to see what interests council officers hold.

The ICO sums up by saying: “The Commissioner acknowledged that releasing some of this information would intrude into their private lives and may cause them distress. However, he also found that – as the officers are responsible for decisions that affect the local community and involve spending public money – there was a case for disclosing it in the public interest.

“The Commissioner has therefore ruled that some of the information relating largely to officers’ business interests and shareholdings should be released.”

That seems clear enough – time to get the books open.

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