CRUCIAL dates, figures and financial details of the half a billion pound contract for the Javelin Park incinerator near Stroud must be disclosed, a government body has ruled.
On Friday the Information Tribunal ruled against Gloucestershire County Council’s controversial appeal against a decision made by the Information Commissioner in 2015.
It means that the Conservative-led authority will have to disclosure key prices, strategy and information regarding termination of the 25-year contract which it had previously sought to keep secret.
However, the tribunal also upheld parts of the council’s appeal, ruling that small amounts of information deemed commercially sensitive will remain redacted.
The long-awaited decision marks a victory for campaigners and councillors who have for years been calling for greater transparency from the council on its contract with Urbaser Balfour Beatty.
Key pieces of information that GCC must now reveal include projected savings, pricing for gate fees, plans for unitary charges and schedules.
It comes after an IT error accidently released the entirety of the document online earlier this year, undermining a £200,000 tax-payer funded legal bill by the county council to keep some parts a secret.
Steve Lydon, councillor for Dursley and Labour's finance spokesman, welcomed the decision, saying: "The Conservatives have made a mockery of this whole process.
“We've had to fight for years to get this information, and they have spent thousands of pounds in taxpayer's funds in hiding it.
“Now they have made it near impossible to access or understand. I am calling for a public meeting at Shire Hall for residents to attend and learn what this contract means for them and our communities. It's time they took responsibility for their actions."
Sarah Lunnon, Green county councillor for Stroud Central, who campaigned for full transparency and spoke at the High Court tribunal, said the decision was embarrassing for the Conservatives.
“Tory-run Gloucestershire County Council, at vast taxpayer expense, have been forced to show us the major parts of the rubbish contract,” she said.
“We can now see residents are being over-charged, recycling and waste reduction projects killed at birth and the obscene profits guaranteed to major multi-nationals.
“The county didn't pick an acceptable technology, failed to negotiate a fair contract and then spent hundreds of thousands of pounds hiding information.
“They haven't just got egg on their faces, the administration had been given an eggy bath.”
In a scathing response, Gerald Hartley, chair of GlosVAIN, which has fought the incinerator project since its conception, said the Conservative administration behind the contract had lost all credibility.
“The Information Tribunal has overwhelmingly rejected the council’s appeal against the Information Commissioner’s decision,” he said.
“Indeed, in some instances, the Tribunal has ordered even more information be released than the Commissioner required.
“The Tribunal confirms a few exceptions and those are predominantly to protect UBB’s genuine commercial interests or personnel details.
“This judgement challenges GCC’s exaggeration of its commercial role and rejects its shunning of transparency and public interest.
“Seen together with its failure to maintain the contract’s confidentiality, the Conservative cabinet has lost all credibility.
“It is exposed as an anti-democratic body, guided by expensive consultants and legal advice, all paid for by us.”
Jojo Mehta from campaign group 38 Degrees said: “GCC are pretending as hard as they can that the mess on their face from this decision is not egg – and lots of egg at that.
“They have been told to disclose huge swathes of redacted information - and have received a royal dressing-down in the process.
“To spin this the way they have is truly extraordinary - and of course completely redundant given that the full unredacted contract is already in the public domain.
"The tribunal's decision is a major moral victory for the public interest, as well as a significant legal precedent, since there are at least two other County Councils involved in similar Freedom of Information cases.”
Paul Hodgkinson, leader of the Lib Dems on the council added: “What we have seen is in fact a slap on the wrists for the county council’s administration.
“This puts in the public domain almost all of the information about the dealings between the Council and UBB. But in my view it still doesn’t go far enough – we have a right as taxpayers to see everything.
“The saddest thing though is that the Conservatives have spent more than £200,000 of public money on trying to keep the whole contract secret.
“After all that money, they’re now being forced to reveal more of the facts. What a waste of taxpayers’ cash.
“Just think how many potholes could be fixed properly with that money – it is a disgrace.
“And all for the sake of this monstrosity of a building which is being constructed on the doorstep of Gloucester and Stroud. There are cheaper and greener ways to dispose of rubbish.”
Cllr Ray Theodoulou, deputy leader of the council, stuck to his guns about the benefits of the facility and said the decision was a positive one.
“This is good news. It clarifies exactly what information we are required to publish – and is clear that key commercially-sensitive information can be protected,” he said.
“We know of a number of councils across the country that are appealing against similar rulings – so this helps us all know what the legal rules are here.”
The Conservative councillor also said he was now “really pleased to be able finally to publish the information”.
“The new facility will save taxpayers over £100 million, make enough clean electricity to power 25,000 homes and reduce carbon emissions by 40,000 tonnes,” he added.
“UBB has made good progress on construction and the facility will be operational in 2019.”
GCC’s Public Private Partnership contract involves the build and operation of the Incinerator, with an estimated overall contract value of £500m, and annual capacity of up to 190,000 tonnes.
The council had previously argued that large sections of the contract, including pricing and volume information, were commercially sensitive, and that their disclosure could pose a risk to both the private contractor, and the council, in terms of impacts on any future tendering activity.
Campaigners have been fighting for access to the contract since 2015, when their first Freedom of Information Request was refused.
Councillors are now preparing questions for a politically charged full council meeting at Shire Hall next Wednesday, March 22.
An updated version of the contract is now available on the council’s website.