Clarified request from FOI-3819-1920
Request ID: FOI-0044-2021
Date published: 01 May 2020
I specifically require the first contact/s made with Concilio/ Nick Dines and TfL relating to the Cockfosters development.
The time period will definitely begin sometime prior to June 2019 (the date of the first public consultation and by which time Concilio Communications had been appointed as the communications agency for the proposed development at Cockfosters station car parks). TFL claims it carried out research between June 2018 and October 2019 in relation to this development and so the window needs to start sometime before June 2018 as it is likely that they commissioned a communications consultancy at this stage. So I think the window would probably be March 2018 to May 2019. However, I of course have no way of knowing how long TfL’s internal processes, for example, take, so the window may need to be longer.
Can a keyword search on emails using the search term ‘Concilio’ and ‘Nick Dines’ or emails received from [email protected] be made for the time window as above?
Please provide me with copies of all communications (phone calls, emails, letters, minutes of meetings etc.) between TfL and Concilio communications (including any communications from/with Nick Dines owner of Concilio Communications) relating to the procurement/selection of Concilio Communications as the PR/communications consultancy for the proposed developments at Cockfosters and Arnos Grove station car parks.
Our Ref: FOI-0044-2021
Thank you for your clarified request received on 2 April 2020 asking for correspondence regarding Concilio Communications.
Your request has been considered in accordance with the requirements of the Freedom of Information Act and our information access policy. I can confirm we do hold the information you require.
However, we are refusing your request under section 14(1) of the Act, which provides an exemption to the disclosure of information where a request is considered to be ‘vexatious’. In reaching this conclusion we have drawn on guidance from the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) that can be found on its website here: https://ico.org.uk/media/1198/dealing-with-vexatious-requests.pdf
You will note that this guidance includes the following advice to public authorities:
“Section 14(1) may be used in a variety of circumstances where a request, or its impact on a public authority, cannot be justified. Whilst public authorities should think carefully before refusing a request as vexatious they should not regard section 14(1) as something which is only to be applied in the most extreme circumstances”;
“Sometimes a request may be so patently unreasonable or objectionable that it will obviously be vexatious….In cases where the issue is not clear-cut, the key question to ask is whether the request is likely to cause a disproportionate or unjustified level of disruption, irritation or distress…This will usually be a matter of objectively judging the evidence of the impact on the authority and weighing this against any evidence about the purpose and value of the request”;
“The public authority may take into account the context and history of the request, where this is relevant”;
“The information Commissioner recognises that dealing with unreasonable requests can place a strain on resources and get in the way of delivering mainstream services or answering legitimate requests.”
“Section 14(1) is designed to protect public authorities by allowing them to refuse any request which have the potential to cause a disproportionate or unjustified level of disruption, irriation or distress”.
“…the concepts of ‘proportionality’ and ‘justification’ are central to any consideration of whether a request is vexatious”;
The guidance includes some specific indicators to help public authorities judge whether or not a case should be considered vexatious. This includes the following:
“Burden on the authority: the effort required to meet the request will be so grossly oppressive in terms of the strain on time and resources, that the authority cannot reasonably be expected to comply, no matter how legitimate the subject matter or valid the intentions of the requester”;
“Frequent or overlapping requests: the requester submits frequent correspondence about the same issue or sends in new requests before the public authority has had an opportunity to address their earlier enquiries”.
“Disproportionate effort: the matter being pursued by the requester is relatively trivial and the authority would have to extend a disproportionate amount of resources in order to meet the request.”
When requests for email correspondence are received the FOI Case Management team may use a search tool called Discovery Accelerator. This allows us to conduct company wide email searches using keywords, dates and email addresses. The more specific a requester can be as to what they are looking for, the more we can narrow the search and therefore stand a better chance of a more relevant or focused result. A search will then return an amount of ‘hits’ which potentially contain information relating to the search terms used. Each ‘hit’ is a single email, although that email will often consist of a chain of emails containing the search term at least once.
We have done an initial search for all emails held by TfL to/from the email address stated for Nick Dines of Concilio for the full timeframe requested, and this has returned 628 hits. This number is likely to include duplicates, as well as emails that are not caught by the request. However, we would need to manually review all of the emails identified by the search in order to extract and collate the relevant emails. Whilst we have identified these emails there could potentially be further emails captured by the request that we have not yet been able to identify due to the lack of clarity on what is being sought.
The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) guidance states that one of the indicators of a request which may fall under section 14(1) is that it “appears to be part of a completely random approach, lacks any clear focus, or seems to have been solely designed for the purpose of ‘fishing’ for information without any idea of what might be revealed.”
The ICO guidance provides the following examples of a ‘fishing expedition’ request which may fall under section 14(1) if it:
- Imposes a burden by obliging the authority to sift through a substantial volume of information to isolate and extract the relevant details;
- Encompasses information which is only of limited value because of the wide scope of the request;
- Creates a burden by requiring the authority to spend a considerable amount of time considering any exemptions and redactions.
Our view is that all three of these examples apply in this instance.
We consider that providing the requested information would place an unreasonable burden on us and retrieving, reviewing and redacting the information would be disproportionate to the benefit of providing it. Therefore, due to the wide and unfocused scope of your request, we are refusing it under section 14 (1) of the FOI Act.
Our principal duty is to provide an effective transport service for London and we consider that answering this request would represent a disproportionate effort. It would be a significant distraction from our work managing the TfL network, requiring re-allocation of already limited resources and placing an unacceptable burden on a small number of personnel. We do wish to clarify that whilst we consider that your request falls under section 14(1) of the FOI Act, this does not reflect a conclusion that it has been your intention to deliberately place an undue burden on our resources.
If you would like to re-submit a more focused, specific request then we will, of course, consider it. For example, a request for information on a particular, specific, subject or issue contained in correspondence exchanged between named individuals over a more limited period of time is less likely to raise concerns about the disproportionate effort required to answer it.
Please note, the Government has announced a series of measures to tackle the coronavirus. It is essential for London, and in particular for all critical workers, that we continue to provide a safe transport network that enables them to make the journeys they need to.
In current circumstances, we are not able to answer FOI requests readily and we ask that you please do not make a request to us at present.
Answering FOI requests will require the use of limited resources and the attention of staff who could be supporting other essential activity. In any event, please note that our response time will be affected by the current situation.
Please see the attached information sheet for details of your right to appeal.
Senior FOI Case Officer
FOI Case Management Team
Transport for London
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