Council refuses to reveal £1m contract details

By Caleb Spencer in Politics

CEREDIGION County Council is refusing to disclose details of its controversial contract with Pricewaterhouse Coopers following a Freedom of Information request by the Cambrian News.

Figures obtained by the Cambrian News in January revealed that Ceredigion County Council had so far paid consultants Pricewaterhouse Coopers (PwC) £963,630 of taxpayers’ money as part of the ‘risk and reward’ work, which sees PwC receive a percentage of savings made by the council from cuts identified by the company.

The council came under pressure again over its contract with PwC in April after a parliamentary committee accused the company of “promoting tax avoidance on and industrial scale”, with one councillor labelling its practices “immoral”.

Following a further request by this newspaper for the details of the contract, including the percentage which PwC receives, the council has refused, claiming the commercial interests of PwC and the council in non-disclosure outweigh the public interest in revealing the information.

The council’s response stated: “Unfortunately, we are unable to release this information as we deem it to be commercially sensitive under Section 43 of the Freedom of Information Act.

“It is recognised that there is a general public interest in the disclosure of commercial information to ensure, for example: transparency in the accountability of public funds; proper scrutiny of government action; and the effective use of public money.

“However, where disclosure would make it less likely that companies or individuals would provide the authority with information in the future, or where disclosure would make it more difficult for individuals to be able to conduct commercial transactions, or have future dealings with public bodies without fear of suffering commercially as a result, these are factors that may weigh in favour of non-disclosure.”

Some councillors have pointed out that many of the savings suggested by PwC could have been, and in fact have been, suggested by councillors who are paid £13,300 a year, and cabinet members who are paid £26,000 a year.

The Cambrian News has appealed the decision by the council not to release the information about the contract with Pricewaterhouse Coopers and asked for an internal review into it.

See this week’s south editions for the full story, in shops and online tomorrow

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