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UNIVERSITY OF SALFORD ATTEMPTS EXEMPTION FROM FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT
 

Star date: 30th April 2012

SALFORD UNIVERSITY TRIES TO STOP FREEDOM OF INFORMATION REQUESTS

The University of Salford has tried to get itself and other universities exempt from the Freedom of Information Act on the grounds that "they are not `Public Authorities'". The bid was made in written evidence to the Justice Committee which is currently scrutinising the Act.

Salford University admits in its evidence that it cost well over £75,000 to stop one Freedom of Information request, while last year, the Information Commissioner found that Salford University had breached the Act five times in its dealings with Salford Star.

Full story here…


The University of Salford has called for universities to be exempt from the Freedom of Information Act (FoIA) which obliges it to disclose information on request to the public and media.

"It is the University of Salford's view that serious consideration should be given to removing Universities from the ambit of the Freedom of Information Act because they are not `Public Authorities' in view of the now relatively small proportion of public funding to British Universities" it states in its opening paragraph of written evidence to Parliament's Justice Select Committee, chaired by Sir Alan Beith, which is currently considering `post-legislative scrutiny of the Freedom of Information Act'.

Despite Salford University's claim in its evidence that "The HE [Higher Education] sector is one of the most open of the sectors of public authority subject to FoIA and the University is committed to proactive disclosure of information", Salford University has been involved with Freedom of Information battles with ex-students, a sacked lecturer and the Salford Star

When the Salford Star tried to find out how much rent Salford University was paying to Peel Holdings for its new MediaCityUK campus, it took over 18 months for the University to respond, with the Information Commissioner eventually ruling that there had been five breaches of the Freedom of Information Act, with responses "very unsatisfactory" and that there had been "a significant failure to conform to the Code of Practice" (see here).

Eventually the Star got the information, that the University was paying almost £20million in rent at MediaCityUK until 2020 (see here). This was very much in the public interest given that, with around £30million in fit out costs for the campus, the total came to £50millionat the same time that the University was making savings by axing staff, a process that's still continuing (see here).

It was as a result of the constant staff cut backs that people piled in Freedom of Information requests that aimed to make public what was seen as lavish expenditure at the University. Many of these, the University claimed were `vexatious' or, as the dictionary defines it, `annoying', and were refused.

The University even admits to spending a "conservative estimate…in excess of £75,000 in staff time alone, plus substantial legal fees" to block `vexatious' requests for information from Dr Gary Duke, a former lecturer who was sacked and is still involved in an ongoing libel case appeal with Salford University (see here for history).

"It's astonishing, it's a huge amount of tax payers money but sadly I'm not surprised" says Gary Duke "The 'Freedom of Information Champion' at Salford, Deputy Vice Chancellor Dr Adrian Graves, must consider the spending over £75,000 to ensure that my FOI requests are not answered important. The question is why?

"In light of the huge redundancies being imposed at Salford, we're told that it is necessary to save money, and this raises serious questions; this is public money after all" he adds "They've spent in the region of £50,000 - £100,000 on an ongoing libel action against me, and now this vast amount which they say is a 'conservative estimate' and excludes legal fees. Why aren't the University's governing body asking Martin Hall and Adrian Graves serious questions about how they're spending public money? The University is a public body and Salford MP Hazel Blears now needs to call for an immediate inquiry into these matters."

While, a tribunal agreed that the University was right to block the FoIA requests from Gary Duke, it wasn't on the grounds of the actual information requested, just the volume of requests made (see here). In its evidence to the Justice Committee the University argues that "The amount of information required and level of evidence of vexatiousness required by the ICO [Information Commissioner] is, in our view, too high".

Indeed, all the University of Salford's evidence to the Committee is based around trying to make it harder to obtain information, citing costs and commercial confidentiality amongst other reasons. Ideally, though, the University of Salford would like to be removed from having to comply with the Freedom of Information Act altogether because it doesn't consider itself a `public authority'. And this is the organisation that wants to run Salford's schools under its new venture, Salford Academy Trust? (see here)

* The University of Salford's full written evidence is available by clicking here and scrolling down to FOI 31


 

UoS wrote
at 20:34:37 on 30 April 2012
If anybody wants evidence that the refusal of these requests might well have had nothing to do with their "vexatious" character, and probably more to do with managers attempting to conceal information, a little bit of maths might come in handy. The University claim 120 requests in a 3 month period constitutes vexatiousness. Even if this were true, it would have been CHEAPER to answer each and every one of them by supplying the information, than it proved to be in resisting them. The cost limit for dealing with a request is £450, and assuming the University 'maxed out' on all 120 requests (unlikely) this would have cost a mere £54,000 to supply the information. In the end, the University spent much more (possibly as much as double including legal fees) resisting disclosure, and now they are attempting to influence a post-legislative inquiry in order to secure their permanent exemption from the scrutiny that the Act provides. For the record, the Upper Appeals Administrative Tribunal have granted leave for an oral hearing to determine whether there should be a full appeal against this decision, so the legal determination is yet to run its course.
 
Anti- Politician wrote
at 20:32:37 on 30 April 2012
Well said Ian . Hazel is far too busy to get involved . All her time is taken up being 'the Salford Peepils Champeen' at the sharp end , the 'cut and thrust' of politics . Fighting for the 'people and the City where her heart is'. That's just fine then . When such soothing puke is vomited on a regular basis , I suppose a few may be fooled , but we all know Big Business interests have dominated policy in this City for many years , and the shafted taxpayer pays for it .It really is no surprise we are ripped-off with the obsceneny high council tax extortion . The mayor must sort this out , without delay .
 
ian brien wrote
at 13:09:57 on 30 April 2012
Yet another organisation which takes more from Salford than it ever gives and believes it does not need to conform to the rules which everybody else does (or should, at least). But I don't see Hazel getting involved - when did she ever take on big business, and being that Salford Council is owned by Peel, I don't imagine this is a fight for the democratic process she will want any part of.
 
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