Veolia Environmental Services (VES) has renewed legal action against its waste partner Nottinghamshire County Council, in a bid to prevent the publication of financial documents relating to the £850m PFI contract signed by the two parties.
The waste management firm launched an appeal after a High Court ruling that Veolia’s interim injunction against the publication of financial documents to anti-incineration campaigner Shlomo Dowen in October 2009 was invalid.
Veolia Environmental Services (UK) managing director Steve Mitchell said: “We first requested a legal ruling on this issue because we wanted to give clarity to local authorities, the general public and the waste management industry.”
“It’s really important to look at this issue in the wider sense. Making any commercially sensitive material available to a direct competitor could potentially have an adverse effect on the benchmarking process. This could mean an increased cost to the local taxpayer and that is something that must be taken very, very seriously”.
Veolia’s appeal was heard by three senior judges at the Royal Courts of Justice in a two-day hearing on July 5-6, in which Veolia’s lawyers argued that the publication of the financial information would breach its ‘human rights’.
UK Without Incineration Network (UKWIN) national co-ordinator Shlomo Dowen, who attended the hearing as the ‘first interested party’ told MRW: “What it [Veolia] is saying is that the formulas contained in the schedule, that I feel I should be able to see under the Audit Commission Act, constitute a possession of Veolia’s and that to allow me to see it would be the equivalent of the value of its possessions being diminished.
“Effectively it’s saying that I’m stealing the information. Obviously my argument is that the terms of the contract between Veolia and Nottinghamshire County Council are not Veolia’s possession. They belong to me, because this was a public contract entered into on my behalf. So if it is commercially sensitive information – which I agree it is – it’s my commercially sensitive information and I should be allowed to see it.”
Dowen explained that he originally sought the publication of the plans because of his concern that the contract was effectively a ‘sham’.
He said: “My contention is that by signing the waste PFI contract, Nottinghamshire County Council entered into a sham contract and that we as ratepayers are not getting good value for our money.”
The decision over Veolia’s appeal has been suspended following a ‘point of order’ over the issue of the ownership of the contract between the two parties. According to Dowen, Veolia argued that it issued the initial proposal, but were unable to provide supporting evidence, while Nottinghamshire County Council argued that the contract was negotiated between the two parties as part of a tendering process.
Nottinghamshire County Council cabinet member for environment and sustainability Richard Butler said: “The County Council works with many contractors and is very sensitive to commercial interest.However, as a public body we must ensure that we comply with the law and are open, transparent and accountable to the local taxpayer where we can be.
“We look forward to receiving the Court of Appeal judgment in this matter, having invited the Court to provide clarity and guidance on the law so as to ensure that we comply with our statutory obligations.”
The Judges’ decision is expected between now and October.