FOI: The council which likes to help naughty shopkeepers

Oxford. A city of spires, universities … and an apparent guarantee that if you’re busted by county’s trading standards, they’ll do their best to keep you out of the paper.

Really? According to the Oxford Mail, that certainly appears to be the case.

The Mail’s Oliver Evans used FOI to ask Oxford County Council for details of all the shops which had been caught selling age-restricted goods to young people as part of regular stings.

The county council responded, saying that 27 out of 85 stores checked were caught selling things like cigarettes, fireworks and even knives to youngsters.

Rightly (in my opinion), the Mail also reports on the fact the county council refused to name the stores involved.

Olive reports:

Oxfordshire County Council refused to release the premises’ names as this might “harm the commercial interests of another person” and in case there were court cases if they break the law again.

The authority also argued that “a failed test might not be an “accurate reflection” of whether the premises is currently selling to underage youngsters and shops could have changed ownership.”

If that last point really is true, then it surely begs the question why carry out the inspections in the first place. Could the police apply the same principle to drink drivers, arguing that one failed breath test may not be an accurate reflection of whether people did drink and drive?

There could – in theory – be a good reason for not releasing some of the details if legal action is still pending.

But surely a trading standards department is only effective when the people who pay for it, have faith in it?

 

5 comments

  1. Not sure I agree on this one.
    Trading Standards cases should be reported immediately – as they happen – just as we do court cases.
    I’d be worried about putting a shop’s name in the newspaper about an incident 10 months ago. It could have been a rogue member of staff, could have been sold, etc.
    We don’t report on an assault case that took place 10 months earlier – we do it contemporaneously. Use the stats by all means – but I’m not sure about the naming element with the timescale involved.

    1. Hello! I see what you’re saying, but on the other hand, councils also issue their environmental health ratings too – and in some cases, they can become months old before updated. One is open data, the other protected under FOI?

  2. There’s a way to get this information, did it when I was in South Wales. Can appeal under public interest, and also use documents from things like PACT meeting to show ‘youth annoyance’ as a problem in areas and police tackling it as an issue. Can see example here on What Do They Know:

    http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/test_alcohol_purchases

    and Hold the Front Page:

    http://www.holdthefrontpage.co.uk/2010/news/journalist-wins-foi-battle-over-alcohol-sales/

    If they’ve broken the law, the public have a right to know.

  3. Although Oxford County Council don’t appear to have claimed this exemption, it is quite possible that they are legally barred from releasing the names of the businesses by the Enterprise Act 2002. This applies to information collected about businesses for trading standards purposes as long as the businesses are still trading. See the ICO guidance note on this: http://www.ico.gov.uk/for_organisations/guidance_index/~/media/documents/library/Freedom_of_Information/Detailed_specialist_guides/220609_SEC_237_OF_THE_ENTERPRISE_ACT_2002_V1.ashx

    1. Thanks for this – interesting. In fact, very interesting, although I do find myself asking where data about environmental health inspections being released publicly fits in here?

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