ICO: ‘Commercial interests trump public interest in ICT bid details’

Councils should not be forced to reveal detailed technical or commercial information relating to large scale ICT contracts, the Information Commissioner’s Office has ruled.

The commissioner has rejected a complaint that Kent County Council redacted most information from tender documents relating to the competition for the Kent Public Sector Network (KSPN) which it released following a Freedom of Information request.

The commissioner said that a general public interest in the details of what public money was being spent on was outweighed by the danger to the commercial interests of the bidders.

A statement from the ICO said: “The commissioner notes that in the case of largescale IT contracts such as this one, bids contain technical and commercial information which would clearly be of use to competitors to the bidder.

“Details such as service provision, capacities, staffing and resource levels across a number of sites to ensure smooth running of the systems in place etc. may well be details which competitors would take into account in future bid.

“Whilst technical or commercial details of the contract are of prime importance to the authorities using the systems, much of this information would be of little importance to the general public providing that the public authorities have an effective working IT service which aids them in carrying out their functions.”

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KSPN is a single ICT infrastructure for Kent and Medway local authorities, Kent Police and Kent Fire & Rescue, serving 1,100 sites and 250,000 users.

The contract to provide the service was awarded to Daisy Updata Communications Ltd (DUCL) in August 2014, with a reported value of £24m over six years.

In November 2014, the complainant wrote to the council and requested information relating to the DUCL and other bids.

The ICO was called in after the council redacted virtually everything but the headings.

The council argued that the release of more information would damage the commercial interests of DUCL in future tenders “as competitors may use the information to develop their own packages to perform better against DUCL’s tendering strategies”.

It was an argument the commissioner accepted, saying he was “satisfied that the resultant prejudice which is alleged is real and of substance”.

The same argument related to information submitted to the council by other bidders, he ruled.

Colin Marrs

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