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Council attacks retired journalist for publishing FoI response on his blog

A council has hit out at a retired journalist for publishing its response to a Freedom of Information request on his blog – claiming that the move was “entirely inappropriate.”

Scottish Borders Council has criticised Bill Chisholm, who worked for The Scotsman between 1967 and 2005, for publishing the information about a property deal involving the authority and a family who owned an estate it purchased.

The council confirmed in the response to the request, made by former councillor Andrew Farquahar, pictured, that it paid £9.6m to two companies registered in the Cayman Islands in order to purchase the Lowood Estate, which was ultimately owned by the Hamilton family.

Bill subsequently ran a piece about the deal on his ‘Not Just Sheep and Rugby’ blog under the pseudonym ‘Doug Collie’, but the authority has since criticised him for doing so – saying individuals with whom it conducts such deals “should not be subject to this level of scrutiny”.

Farquhar

The council said in a statement: “As a public authority SBC was required to provide the information requested by Mr Farquhar.

“Mr Farquhar and Mr Chisholm have now chosen to publicise this information in a way that, in our view, is entirely inappropriate.

“The council believes private individuals should not be subject to this level of scrutiny regarding how they conduct their personal financial and legitimate tax affairs.”

But Bill, who also uses a series of other sheep-related noms-de-plume on his blog including Ewan Lamb and Douglas Shepherd, has hit back at the council’s stance, accusing it of “shooting the messengers”.

Speaking to The National, he said: “Surely council taxpayers have a right to know whether we are getting value for money. But with SBC’s members effectively silenced and gagged there appears to have been little effort by our so-called elected representatives to scrutinise or challenge this massive monetary transaction.

“It is left to members of the public to carp from the side lines or, alternatively, try to find out what has taken place. It may annoy the local authority, but some of us will continue to ask awkward questions.

“I would suggest the council might recover some trust and respect by publicly issuing full details rather than shooting the messengers.”

3 comments

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  • May 16, 2019 at 10:52 am
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    Information that must be provided to the public, shouldn’t, er, be made public, according to SBC? If the information fell outside the scope of FOI, then they should have refused the application.

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  • May 16, 2019 at 2:53 pm
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    This council needs to send its staff on a training course. Any information published under FOI is just that – published. Once they’ve given it to one person, everyone has the right to access it. Absolutely unbelievable that a council would not know this.

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  • May 16, 2019 at 7:06 pm
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    If 9.6 million was paid for this estate, it begs the question as to how much did the District Valuer value it at before purchase? One would hope that it would be a great deal more than that paid by the Council – does anyone know?

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