Request for information about funding of Resource Teachers
Advice provided in context of Budget but bid unsuccessful—Minister asked for bid to be resubmitted in next Budget—9(2)(f)(iv) applied to much of the information at issue, but not all of it—Minister released some general information but continued to withhold detailed analysis—overall public interest not served by the disclosure of advice that may undermine the effective preparation of next Budget
A requester sought information about the funding of Resource Teachers: Vision (these are resource teachers to support children and students who are blind or have low vision). The request was refused under section 9(2)(f)(iv), and the requester complained to the Ombudsman.
The Ombudsman ascertained that the advice in question was provided in the context of Budget 2007. The bid in relation to Resource Teachers: Vision was unsuccessful. However, the Minister asked the Ministry of Education to resubmit the bid in Budget 2008.
The Ombudsman confirmed that ‘the general constitutional convention which protects the confidentiality of advice tendered by Ministers and officials is heightened during Budget preparation’. However, this did not justify the ‘broad brush’ approach that had been taken to withholding information relating to the unsuccessful bid. The fact that the bid would be resubmitted in Budget 2008 meant that section 9(2)(f)(iv) was applicable to much of the information at issue, but not all of it. He asked the Minister to reconsider the information at issue and provide additional explanation of the predicted prejudice should it be released.
After further consideration, the Minister decided to release information about the budget strategy and priorities, general descriptive information about the bid, and progress updates on the budget process. However, he continued to withhold information about the scaling and costing of the initiative, and detailed analysis by officials.
The Ombudsman formed the opinion that the remaining information could be withheld under section 9(2)(f)(iv). He noted that once decisions have been made and announced as part of a particular Budget, information about those decisions does not normally require protection from disclosure. However, because the Budget process occurs over multiple years, and because in this case the Minister had given an assurance that this particular funding proposal was under active consideration as part of Budget 2008, he was of the view that to disclose information specific to the 2007 Budget bid would undermine the convention protecting the confidentiality of advice tendered by officials.
The Ombudsman stated:
In these circumstances, where a proposal is being recycled, it seems to me that, at this stage at least, the desirability of disclosing the information in the public interest does not outweigh the interest in withholding. The overall public interest will not be served by the disclosure of advice that may undermine the effective preparation of Budget 2008.
However, once Budget 2008 has been delivered, there is less need for ongoing protection of this particular advice and the balance between the public interest considerations and any considerations protected by section 9(2)(f)(iv) ... will change.
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.