Nottingham City Council still refuses to publish secret financial report after internal review

Loxley House, the headquarters of Nottingham City Council
By Joe Locker, Local Democracy Reporter

Nottingham City Council is continuing to withhold a secret report raising “very serious concerns” over its financial management following an appeal and internal review.

Ernst and Young (EY), an accounting and auditing firm, was asked to look at the Labour-run authority’s books following the uncovering of significant misspending in the council’s Housing Revenue Account in 2021.

By law, the money in the account must only be spent on council housing and tenants, but it had been wrongly transferred to the authority’s general fund over a series of years at a cost of £51m.

So far, the council has only published its own 10-page summary, and it says the full report cannot be made public because it is confidential.

In July, the Local Democracy Reporting Service submitted a Freedom of Information (FOI) request asking for the report to be made public.

However, following its own public interest test, the council decided to withhold the full report.

An appeal against this decision was lodged in September and an internal review was launched.

On November 1, Senior Information Officer David Brewster responded to say the decision to withhold the information will be upheld.

“Disclosure of this report undermines ongoing remediation work around Financial Controls across the whole council, and the delivery of good governance which is counter to any public interest in disclosure,” he said in the response.

“It is felt disclosure would be likely to be detrimental to this remediation process.

“There is a strong public interest in ensuring that the quality and frankness of this remediation process is not harmed by the disclosure of the report in relation to a confidential process.”

It has also been argued publishing the report would prevent senior officers from having a “safe space to consider the report and future activities linked into this report away from external interference and distraction”.

So far, only a select few senior officers in the council have seen the full report.

The response adds: “The public interest clearly lies in protecting the ability of senior officers and commissioned parties to carry out and maintain the confidentiality of this process.

“It is the opinion of the council that there is no compelling public interest in overriding this confidentiality.

“It is therefore believed disclosure of this report would have a significant disruptive effect; it would divert limited resources in the council to
manage the effect of disclosure and future disclosures of confidential reports.”

The council first decided to withhold the report under Section 36 of the Freedom of Information Act, which relates to the potential to prejudice effective conduct of public affairs.

In response, a petition was set up by a group called ‘No Secrets Nottingham’, calling for the report to be made public.

One of the group’s coordinators, Tom Unterrainer, said he was disappointed in the outcome.

“From what I’ve heard, the budget is looking very grim,” he said.

“And you can only assume the council is making budget recommendations on the back of this EY report.”

The Local Democracy Reporting Service will now be appealing the decision with the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).

Cllr Kevin Clarke, the leader of the Nottingham Independents and Independent opposition group, said: “We fully support it being taken to the ICO.

“It is terrible. At the end of the day we live in a democratic country and it is taxpayers’ money that has paid for this investigation.

“I think it should be published. We don’t want it hiding in the background.”

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