Request for identities of guests who dined at a council’s expense
Accountability for spending public money—level of disquiet, speculation or controversy—s 7(2)(a) did not provide good reason to withhold
Significant public controversy surrounded a fundraising event, at which certain unnamed private guests had dined at a council’s expense. A requester sought the identities of the guests, which were withheld for privacy reasons (section 7(2)(a) of the LGOIMA).
The Chief Ombudsman concluded that the need to withhold this information to protect privacy was outweighed by the public interest in release to promote accountability for spending public money. Disclosure would:
promote accountability of agencies and officials for entertainment and hospitality expenditure decisions;
facilitate public understanding of the purpose of entertainment and hospitality expenditure;
provide public assurance about the propriety of that expenditure; and
ensure proper and prudent expenditure of public money through transparency of decision-making.
The public interest in disclosure was heightened by:
the ‘sensitive’ nature of the expenditure (meaning expenditure which is unusual or provides a private benefit to a staff member additional to the business benefit of expenditure); and
the controversy over the propriety of the expenditure which, if left unaddressed, may have eroded public trust and confidence in the council’s stewardship of public money.
For more information about requests for expense-related information, including identities of individuals, see our Chief executive expenses guide.
This case note is published under the authority of the Ombudsmen Rules 1989. It sets out an Ombudsman’s view on the facts of a particular case. It should not be taken as establishing any legal precedent that would bind an Ombudsman in future.