Monday, 21 March 2016

Hinkley's secret document cache

I was intrigued to read that Greenpeace has succeeded in its appeal against the Information Commissioner’s perverse decision to back a French energy company’s  desire for secrecy over British taxpayers’ right to know over the documents detailing the escalating costs of the Hinkley Point C nuclear plant (“Row over 'secret' Hinkley Point documents set to reach tribunal ,” Financial, 21 March,
Over a year ago (3 Dec, 2014)  I asked the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) in a Freedom of Information (FOI) request if it would send me the “ full documentation provided to the European Commission is support of the UK application for State Aid agreement on the Hinkley Point C nuclear project, including five named reports.

DECC refused, but admitted there were actually 126 documents, not just the five I listed, and also threw out my appeal.

DECC told me: "Having balanced the public interest arguments, we consider the public interest in releasing the full notification is outweighed by the need to ensure that the Commission is able to carry-out its investigatory functions effectively which involves the submission of candid and frank views by the Government and requires a safe space for the Commission to consider matters out of the public eye. This would not be possible if information contained in State aid notifications were subject to disclosure."

I passed my request on to the Information Commissioner.

After several months of exchanging  e-mail communications, in which I explained in great detail the public interest in disclosure, in mid-August, the Commissioner – who is supposed to protect  citizens’ right to know – unbelievably rejected my appeal in a fifty page justification for secrecy.(

Distilling the verbiage, the Information Commissioner  came down on the side of the French-owned  energy supplier EDF (Electricité de France) Energy’s commercial interests to  keep documents secret over the public interest of taxpayers to know how billions of pounds of their taxes are going to be handed over to this foreign company, who will no doubt repatriate our taxes to Paris.

I appealed to the next level of adjudication, the so-called First-tier Tribunal (Information Rights) last September. Despite several follow up e-mails, they have declined to respond to my requests for action

Will it take yet another 12 months to draw a blank?  Is the FOI system really fit-for-purpose when a public authority (ie DECC) can filibuster for six months? And the Information Tribunal can ignore applicants?

In January I received yet another communication from the Information Commissioner's office seeking further delay on another FOI request I made on 10 October last year to DECC on documents on nuclear waste costings and subsidies that the Government  presented secretly to the European Commission, which DECC also rejected.

I have heard nothing since.


Surely it is time  the Information Commissioner can come down on the side Joe Public?


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