7th October 2016 - Wheels of Justice Turn Slowly

It was frustrating listening to Gloucestershire County Council's Head of Procurement Ian Mawdsley at the Freedom of Information hearing last week.

Confusing terminology

A key term was "base tonnage", i.e. the minimum waste GCC has contractually agreed to send to the incinerator in order to avoid financial penalties. Clearly this is of great interest to the public and is one of the redacted items. It was not to be confused with "base case tonnage" which indicated instead (I think) the future projected waste arisings in the county - a matter of speculation. 

Distracting hair-splitting

County Councillor Sarah Lunnon (Green), long-term opponent of the Javelin Park project, also made a statement to the court. She afterwards commented that her "main difficulty was not being drawn into debate over specifics... when my main point was one of natural justice". After all, we're footing the bill so we want to see what's on it.

Niceties of evading democracy

Referring to the additional £17 million GCC handed to UBB last autumn, Mawdsley told the court that the decision was called in and questioned on the basis that there was no consultation. However the objection was thrown out, explained Mawdsley, because the Council's constitution strictly says that 'account must be taken of any consultation'. Given that there was no consultation, there was nothing to take account of... At this point Judge Murray Shanks raised an eyebrow - "That's a bit of a lawyer-like argument isn't it?"

If handing out £17 million of council reserve funds doesn't warrant some consultation, I'm not sure what does. 

The upshot - more waiting

Gerald Hartley of GlosVAIN (representing the original Freedom of Information request and thus the interested public) and the Information Commissioner now have 2-3 weeks to submit their conclusions in writing, which I understand GCC will also do. This means 4-5 weeks at least before a decision, possibly longer if the judge considers a further day's hearing necessary in early December. 

The interested public

As an observer I could not take an active part in the hearing. However I was given the chance to state that I was one of those who had submitted an FoI request last year, that I was there to represent all of you, i.e. nearly 5,000 people who had signed the 38 Degrees Come Clean petition - and to underline how deeply unpopular this entire project is with the public. The judge was certainly in no doubt of that.

It now remains to be seen whether the "public interest" - as perceived in law - will lead to the transparency the public are interested in.

Jojo Mehta