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Council told to reveal doomed contract information

A Scottish local authority has been ordered to release more details about why it engaged and then dropped a waste management contractor which later went out of business.

In 2011, Scottish Borders Council agreed a 24-year contract with New Earth Solutions Group (NESG) for a facility at Easter Langlee near Galashiels. But in February 2015, the council pulled the plug on the pyrolysis and gasification scheme.

In May 2016, local resident Bill Chisholm, who has accused councillors and officers of wasting £2.4m, asked to see council reports referring to the NESG contract from 2011-13. The council dealt with the request under Environmental Information Regulations (EIRs).

The following month, NESG went into administration and was bought two days later by DM Opco. In October 2016, the new owner sold NESG to a company within the Panda Group.

This blows their commercially confidential argument out of the water

Bill Chisholm

Six reports were released to Chisholm in July but some parts were redacted, with the council arguing that disclosure of this information would prejudice the confidentiality of commercial or industrial information. The council rejected an appeal by Chisholm.

In a ruling dated 28 April, the Scottish Information Commissioner found that the council had failed to comply with the Environmental Information (Scotland) Regulations 2004 (the EIRs) in responding to the information request.

The commissioner found that Scottish Borders:

  • failed to comply with regulation 5(1) of the EIRs, by failing to make available to Chisholm information which it later disclosed during the investigation
  • was not entitled to withhold information under regulation 10(5)(e) of the EIRs
  • failed to comply with regulation 13(b) and (c) of the EIRs, by failing to provide Chisholm with an explanation of its decision to rely on regulation 10(5)(e) when refusing his request

The council has been given until 12 June to disclose specified information from five reports.

Chilsholm told MRW that the redacted material would not now be provided before the council elections on 4 May. He said he wanted more details to be released.

“This decision relates only to five or six reports. An investigation into my request for all documentation linked to the contract has yet to be concluded. It’s a bit late in the day, but I think it was important to take this issue as far as possible.”

Chisholm highlighted the commissioner’s view that “much of the information withheld from the five reports relates not to NESG and its technological or financial assets but to the council’s own financial or administrative matters”.

“This represents a major victory over the council’s secrecy and blows its commercially confidential argument out of the water,” Chisholm said.

A Scottish Borders spokesperson said: “The council welcomes the decision of the Scottish Information Commissioner.

”As the commissioner has noted, the council is bound by a duty of confidentiality. But the determination that the relevant information is no longer confidential means it can now release that information without breaching its contractual obligations.”

Galashiels gasification plant

Galashiels gasification plant

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