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Weekly’s FoI request rejected because it would ‘distress’ ex-council chief

Nicola BulbeckA council rejected a weekly newspaper’s Freedom of Information request because of the “unnecessary distress” it would cause to the authority’s former chief executive.

Teignbridge Council has knocked back two requests from the Mid-Devon Advertiser for the details of the pay-off given to Nicola Bulbeck, who served as the authority’s chief executive until June.

In turning down the Advertiser’s latest request, the authority said the information concerned Ms Bulbeck’s private life because it related to her “identity and financial standing”.

The newspaper now intends to appeal to the Information Commissioner’s Office against the council’s decision.

Teignbridge Council head of paid services Phil Shears, who is now running the authority, said in a letter to the Advertiser: “There has been an internal review of the original decision and the council upholds the decision to refuse disclosure.

“In considering whether to release the information, I have asked ‘would the disclosure cause unnecessary or unjustified distress or damage to the person to whom the information relates?’ – and the answer is yes.”

He added: “The ­information concerns the former chief executive’s private life because it clearly relates to her identity and financial standing.”

The Advertiser had lodged its initial request after a whistleblower released figures which showed Ms Bulbeck has left the council with £160,000 towards her pension and £160,000 of redundancy pay.

The paper asked the council for conformation of the figures’ accuracy and says it gave the authority time to change its mind and share the details before appealing the decision, which it will now do following the letter from Mr Shears.

The Advertiser reported that Ms Bulbeck caused “uproar” last year when she was given a 12pc pay rise which saw her total remuneration package increase to just under £142,000.

Ruth Davey, Advertiser editorial manager, said: “A local authority’s chief executive’s pay package is funded by public money and by its very nature should be disclosed and made public.

“The annual reporting of salary levels is a legal requirement, so why is Teignbridge District Council, which claims to be so keen on transparency, delaying the inevitable? The reluctance to be clear is keeping the saga in the limelight and creating ill feeling among council tax payers.”

She added: “After 11 years in office – during which time the CEO undertook a two-year stint as a ‘part-timer’ when her working week and six-figure salary were split equally with near-by Torrington District Council – she leaves a black cloud hanging over the local authority.

“We trust the appeal to the Information Commissioner against the refusal is upheld and we can finally get to the truth about the severance package.”

5 comments

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  • August 15, 2017 at 11:37 am
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    Very rum, this. Almost inexplicable. Good luck with that appeal.

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  • August 15, 2017 at 12:27 pm
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    Last week, on another article, I defended the decisions made by some councils to reject FoIs being used for ‘lazy journalism’. This, on the other hand, is an absolute outrage, especially given the history around her pay and how hundreds of thousands of pounds’ worth of taxpayers’ money has been spent!

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  • August 15, 2017 at 1:37 pm
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    Hats off to the good old MDA for hanging on in there – and good luck with the appeal!

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  • August 16, 2017 at 3:17 pm
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    I think I could live with the “distress” of a redundancy package of the size mentioned.

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  • August 19, 2017 at 1:01 pm
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    This is par for the course for Teignbridge Council who refuse to disclose the payoff of a senior planning officer cited in a fraud investigation and then refuse to disclose the findings of an official internal fraud investigation directed by statute. Other FOI denials include refusal to identify policy used in planning determinations and refusal to explain why planning applications delegated to officers for determination, can go from recommendation of refusal, to that of approval, despite the reasons for refusal remaining unchanged. Makes you think doesn’t it!

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