You may have seen the blanket press coverage last week: the London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC), the publicly-funded authority which owns the Olympic Stadium, lost its recent tribunal and was ordered to publish its contract with West Ham football club.
This is a story which goes back to last August, when we first blogged that WhatDoTheyKnow user Richard Hunt had submitted a request for the contract via the site, on behalf of a group of Football Supporters’ Trusts.
In September, we updated the story as LLDC pushed back from publishing the full contract, citing ‘commercial confidentiality’. It seems the subsequent tribunal dismissed this as a valid reason to withhold the information — information which has now been pored over in detail by the nation’s media.
Many concluded that the authority have struck a poor deal on behalf of the general public; we particularly enjoyed a statement from Barry Hearn, former chairman of Leyton Orient, who reportedly stated, “My dog could have negotiated a better deal for the taxpayer.”
Whatever your opinion on the deal itself, we think it’s right that the information should be firmly in the public domain, so that people can clearly see the financial affairs of the authorities they pay for.
Richard Hunt, whose request kickstarted this whole affair, says that it represents a good result for football, too:
The effort to get the contract released under FOI was started by a football fan and then, as the LLDC resisted disclosure, mushroomed into a full scale campaign run by a coalition of football club Supporters Trusts.
It gained such wide support precisely because football fans are taxpayers too, and there was a widespread perception that one such club was receiving public funds to get a new stadium, whereas other clubs had funded new stadia themselves (or more accurately from the revenues earned from their fans ).
It was a rare example of football fans overcoming tribal divisions to work together, and is expected to be showcased at the Supporters Summit meeting organised by the Football Supporters Federation this coming July.
Well done to all involved! You can see the original Freedom of Information request here.
Last month we wrote about a Freedom of Information request, submitted through WhatDoTheyKnow, on West Ham’s lease of the former Olympic Stadium. The resulting information was interesting enough that it became the subject of a BBC TV programme.
The request, submitted by WhatDoTheyKnow user Richard Hunt on behalf of a group of Football Supporters’ Trusts, received some but not all of the information required. The rest was held back on grounds of ‘commercial confidentiality’, a decision which Richard asked the ICO to review.
On 3rd September the ICO found in his favour: the stadium owners, London Legacy Development Corporation, must now provide the full contract, including details of the rent being paid. Read more in this BBC story, which states:
The commissioner said neither West Ham nor LLDC had been able to show how revealing the details of the tenancy agreement would place them at a commercial disadvantage or how this information could be exploited by a competitor.
This is an important point, Richard says:
The commercial confidentiality excuse is a huge problem. I think that if a private company is involved, and the requester doesn’t have a business background, they just assume that it must be reasonable. So they don’t challenge it.
Fortunately we had plenty of business brains, and in particular an understanding of the football business. We challenged the excuse in detail… The overall lesson is, if you get this excuse, try to gain knowledge of the business in question, and ask yourself how exactly a competitor could take advantage of the company if the information was disclosed, and whether the damage outweighs the public interest.
Richard says he is happy to share their submissions to the ICO with anyone facing similar difficulties in obtaining information. You can contact him via WhatDoTheyKnow.
The London Legacy Development Corporation now has until 8th October to disclose the full details of the tenancy agreement.
If you want a copper-bottomed example of how Freedom of Information can benefit us all, you might do worse than to watch How the Hammers Struck Gold (broadcast last week, and available via iPlayer until Friday).
This BBC programme examines, in the space of half an hour, the fine detail of the rental agreement which grants West Ham United the use of the Olympic Stadium.
The stadium’s owners, the London Legacy Development Corporation, are a public authority, so they are bound by the Freedom of Information Act. That means that anyone has the right to ask them for information, and if they hold it, they must release it.
WhatDoTheyKnow user Richard Hunt requested the terms of the rental agreement, and—well, you can see the rest for yourself. It’s a must-watch for anyone interested in football, but there’s plenty for the rest of us too.
The investigation speaks more widely of transparency around the use of tax-payers’ money, as well as the multiple revenue streams—some only loosely related to the actual game—which are up for grabs when a team reaches the Premier League.
If you happen to see this post after the programme has been removed from iPlayer, you can also find a good written summary of the findings on the BBC website.