REVEALED: Sheffield Council refuse over a third of Amey-related FOI requests

Sheffield tree protesters at a full council meeting calling to "show the contract" between Sheffield City Council and Amey
Sheffield tree protesters at a full council meeting calling to "show the contract" between Sheffield City Council and Amey
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Sheffield City Council refused to provide details for more than a third of requests relating to their contract with Amey and tree felling in the past three years.

There were a total of 472 Freedom of Information requests relating to trees, the controversial Streets Ahead contract and Amey submitted to the council during that time period. Of those, 180 were fully or partly declined.

Opposition councillors have often criticised the ruling Labour group for their "lack of transparency".

They have also been accused of being secretive about their dealings with Chinese investors and lagging behind other authorities like Rotherham and Leeds for not broadcasting meetings.

A motion put forward by Councillor Shaffaq Mohammed, leader of Sheffield Lib Dems, to increase openness is set to be discussed in a full council meeting this Wednesday. It has also been supported by Coun Rob Murphy, speaker for Sheffield Green Party.

Coun Mohammed said: “The irony is, Nick Clegg, who was instrumental in securing the contract and one of the most powerful people in the country at that time, wasn’t even allowed to see the full version.

“He got to see national security briefs, top level things about life and death, but unfortunately, Sheffield City Council never let him see a contract for fixing the roads and streets.”

Coun Mohammed said something needs to change, and added: “It’s clearly been getting worse. The more they withhold information the more people think there’s something to hide.

“I can’t believe how this council is operating. I hope after this year’s council election, when Labour lost seats, they actually reflect upon it. It can’t go on, something has to change. The citizens of this city have a right to be informed."

Coun Murphy has registered questions for the meeting this week about costs and officer time spent dealing with FOI requests and said the council would save money by disclosing the full contract.

He said: "Our argument all along has been that morally the council should allow full disclosure of the contract on the grounds of public interest, but we believe the legal problems over FOI requests means it may also be beneficial financially."

The Freedom of Information Act 2000 was introduced in 2005 for the public to access information held by public authorities.

Over the past three years the number of requests about the controversial contract had increased, along with partial and full refusals.

Authorities are able to refuse requests under certain exemptions. In these cases, the main reasons for refusal were that “cost exceeded the limit”, requests were "vexatious", the information was “accessible by other means” and details were “personal” or “confidential”.

In total, 5,843 requests were made to Sheffield Council in the past three years, of which 895 were declined.

Mark Jones, senior information officer at Sheffield Council, said: “Where an FOI or part of an FOI request is refused we always specify the exemptions in question, and explain why they apply."

Read the full list of Amey-related FOI figures:

Totals for three year period
2018

Requests 193

Full refusals 25

Part refusals 47

Full disclosure 90

2017

Requests 157

Full refusals 29

Part refusals 21

Full disclosure 96

2016

Requests 122

Full refusals 43

Part refusals 15

Full disclosure 56