FOI Request - Review of Covid-19 Financial Support
RE: FOI 101002638579
I am writing to request an internal review of Moray Council's handling of my FOI request 'Covid 19 grants or loans to 3rd party organisations'.
I am disappointed that the council has not requested the full information that I requested. I note the exemption applied requires a public interest test. In this case, there is considerable public interest in understanding how covid-19 monies have been spent. Therefore I would urge you to reconsider this and err on the side of transparency. The council should have robust due diligence processes in place and these should not be affected by public disclosure of the organisations that have received funding. Indeed it is possible to argue that clarity about the organisations that have already received funding could help to minimise the possibility of fraud rather than exacerbate it.
Following your request for a review of our response to the FOI you submitted, ‘Covid-19 Financial Support’ – 101002638579, a review meeting was held remotely on 19th January 2021. In consultation were the Records and Heritage Manager, Taxation Manager, Senior Solicitor and Information Co-ordinator.
It was noted that the Council did not address the public interest test in our original response and we would like to apologise for this.
The original response withheld the full details of organisations and any grants they received under section 35(1) of the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 'law enforcement', due to significant concern that this information, if released into the public domain, could be used to support a fraudulent application. Nonetheless the Council seeks to promote transparency wherever possible, and in order to be helpful, summaries of the total number and value of grants was released. The reasons for not disclosing the full details were discussed further, and, it was noted that at this current time there is still a window of opportunity for appeals from those who haven’t received grants and there are also new grant schemes being established. Furthermore, fraud investigations may be ongoing during this period. We can confirm there have been fraudulent applications received and that these hinder the rollout of funds and grants. Considering these factors, it was agreed that the original exemption still applies.
This exemption is subject to the Public Interest Test, which was also considered: given that this is public money and that staff resources are significantly stretched due to the current Covid-19 restrictions, we do not think at this time that the public interest in providing this information outweighs the necessity to prevent fraud and ensure efficient use of public funds. The Council therefore upholds its decision to withhold the requested details.