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Freedom of Information Act 2000 - Question for Short Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:01 pm on 23rd July 2019.

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Photo of Lord Scriven Lord Scriven Liberal Democrat 7:01 pm, 23rd July 2019

My Lords, that is a good question. Some did and some have now suspended payments to those organisations. This organisation was run in a private and closed way and even though some people asked, they did not get answers. There are questions to be asked of council leaders and chief executives about how they followed their taxpayers’ money.

As I say, there are serious allegations about helicopters being procured from friends of the former chief executive to get him from a double booking at a football match to a private family dinner back in Yorkshire. Again, we are not able to get to the bottom of that. Two reports have recently been brought out, one by BDO, which states that this organisation has claimed nearly £1 million in taxpayer-funded expenses. It is not able to work out whether the majority are appropriate or proportionate to personal use versus business use, because there are no policies, no paperwork and no proper procedures. If this organisation had been subject to freedom of information, that would have been highlighted many years ago and these measures would have been put in place. In answer to my noble friend, councils and others would therefore have been able to hold Welcome to Yorkshire to account much more easily.

This organisation has clearly been excessive and misspent public funds. There were no policies or procedures and people were being paid to sign NDAs. There was a culture of toxicity in the organisation and yet no one was able to get at it, despite the fact that £10 million of public money was spent.

I know the Minister cannot put right the wrongs and I know that most noble Lords will be shocked at the excesses I have described. But we in this House and this Parliament have the power, through legislation, to impose the rules on openness and transparency that public bodies have to follow on to private organisations that carry out predominantly public functions, and on to private outsourced bodies that carry out duties on behalf of public bodies.

This might be an excessive case but there is no doubt that it is indeed a case—and that is why freedom of information is needed. If we had had freedom of information, the taxpayers of Yorkshire would probably have been better served by this organisation, which would have been able to get to the root of some of these problems. Those who worked within that organisation would have been aware that their actions, spending and way of working were subject to public scrutiny, as would the scandal in Yorkshire that has now unfolded.