Information Commisioner rap for Welsh Government after refusing FOI request on key Deeside enterprise zone data
Fear of ‘sensationalised news stories’ and the formulation of performance league tables for the seven Welsh Enterprise Zone’s, one of which is Deeside’s, are just a couple of the reasons cited as why the Welsh Government refused to release key performance data under Freedom of Information rules.
The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) launched an investigation into the refusal of the Welsh Government to provide a breakdown of jobs created and retained in each of its enterprise zones.
The investigation was triggered following a compliant by Plaid Cymru who submitted a FOI request in February 2014 they asked:
- What is the total funding the Welsh Government has provided to firms located in each of Wales’ Enterprise Zones. Please break down the amounts by zones?
- How many jobs have been created in each of Wales’ Enterprise Zones. Please break down the amount by zones?
- How many jobs have been retained in each of Wales’ Enterprise Zones. Please break down the amount by zones?
- How many firms have relocated into an Enterprise Zone from another part of Wales since the zones were set up? If any have, where have they relocated from and to which zone?
- In supporting companies in the Enterprise Zones how much of the money has been in grants and how much in loans and at what rate (if loans were made)
The Government responded to the request on 5th March 2014 providing some information, however they withheld information relating to parts 2 and 3 (above) of the request under section 29(1)(b) of the FOIA.
Plaid Cymru went back to the Government asking for a review of its decision, it was refused on the grounds that releasing the information requested into the public domain would likely prejudice the economic interests of individual Zones.
The Welsh Government argued that disclosure of job figures on a zone by zone basis would likely to lead to the formulation of a “league table” of the zones, and sensationalised news stories in the press, this would in turn influence investment decisions and lead to a reluctance on the part of the private sector in investing in those zones which are lower down a league table.
Rhun ap Iorwerth AM, Plaid Cymru shadow minister for the economy & enterprise, said:
“Plaid Cymru supports the development of enterprise zones and wants them to a success in creating jobs across Wales. But after more than two years people have a right to know more about the success of a scheme which involves spending public money.
In a recent Assembly debate on Enterprise Zones in Wales, Flintshire AM Mark Isherwood called on the Welsh Government to provide key performance indicators and half-yearly updates, after raising concerns about both Deeside and Anglesey Enterprise Zones.
In concluding the investigation into the Welsh Government’s refusal to release the information in the FOI request The Information Commissioner’s didn’t believe the arguments put forward were convincing enough and gave the Government 35 days to disclose the information as per request or face possible High Court action.
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