Welsh Blood Service withholds Public Inquiry spending
In direct contravention of a commitment given by the Welsh Blood Service during the opening hearings of the Infected Blood Inquiry, the Velindre University NHS Trust has informed Factor 8 that it will be withholding details concerning how much time and money was spent on Counsel for the opening hearings.
During the opening hearings Ms Powell (speaking on behalf of the Welsh Blood Service) indicated an acceptance of the Charter for Families Bereaved through Public Tragedy.
Responding to Steve Snowden QC on 26th September 2018, Ms Powell said:
And to respond to Mr Snowden QC this morning, yes, and to be clear, our objective is to assist the search for truth
The charter itself states that Public Authorities should:
Approach forms of public scrutiny – including public inquiries and inquests – with candour, in an open, honest and transparent way, making full disclosure of relevant documents, material and facts.
This approach was not adopted in the response we received…
a) How many hours Counsel working for you have spent / will have spent preparing for the Opening Hearings of the Infected Blood Inquiry.
I can confirm in answer to your question the Trust holds at present an estimate of the number of hours spent by Counsel preparing for the opening hearing, whilst we await finalised details to be provided. However, the Trust is relying on the Freedom of Information Act Section 43(2) of the Act to withhold this information from disclosure. Section 43(2) of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 provides that: “Information is exempt information if its disclosure under this Act would, or would be likely to, prejudice the commercial interests of any person (including the public authority holding it)”.
The term 'commercial interests' is not defined in the Freedom of Information Act, however, the Information Commissioners Office awareness guidance on the application of section 43 states: "...a commercial interest relates to a person's ability to participate competitively in a commercial activity, i.e. the purchase and sale of goods or services." As the Trust is a major purchaser of goods and service, the Trust decides that meeting this request to disclose would reveal information that is likely to damage and prejudice the commercial interests of those third party companies in question who supply Velindre University NHS Trust. As section 43(2) is a qualified exemption, the Trust has gone on to consider the public interest in this case. The Trust accepts that there is a public interest in determining how public money is spent and that the public would expect the Trust to operate openly and fairly. Whilst there is a need for transparency on how public funds are spent, there is also a public interest in ensuring that the Trust gets value for money. Therefore we have a duty to protect our legitimate competitive interests and those third parties with whom we engage. On balance the Trust considers that the public interest in favour of disclosure is outweighed by the public interest in favour of maintaining the exemption.
Velindre also applied the same exemption(s) to the following questions which was also posed:
c) The total amount of money you estimate you will have spent on Counsel preparing for the Opening Hearings of the Infected Blood Inquiry.
Velindre did admit that it estimates to have spent £10,000 on other legal costs.
Factor 8 has now submitted the response for internal review, inviting Velindre to withdraw the applied exemptions in spirit with the commitments it made at the first hearings of the Infected Blood Inquiry.