The government has been criticised for taking too long to respond to a freedom of information (FOI) request about contracts for the Hinkley Point C nuclear power station in Somerset.
The Times newspaper put in an FOI request to gain details of two contracts relating to the construction of the power station.
It took the government almost six months to release the information about the deals, according to The Times, against the normal deadline of 20 days. The newspaper has now complained.
When the newspaper finally received the documents last November, it revealed there was a possible conflict of interest between Jacobs owned management consultancy Leigh Fisher and the UK arm of Jacobs, both of which were involved with the project, although not at the same time. Leigh Fisher had a £1.2M contract to provide the government with advice on Hinkley, and the UK arm of Jacobs has a deal to provide project management at Hinkley for developer EDF Energy.
A statement from Leigh Fisher said: ”“We believe that LeighFisher provided appropriate information to the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) concerning the fact that it is an affiliate of Jacobs Engineering UK. This affiliation is publicly known. Clear and robust procedures were in place to address confidentiality and to prevent conflicts of interest.”
Commenting on The Times complaint, a spokesman for the Information Commissioners Office said: “We are currently dealing with a complaint concerning the release of information about the Hinkley Point nuclear power project. Transparency is a cornerstone of a modern democracy and public authorities must respect people’s rights of access to information. That means responding to FOI requests within the statutory timeline of 20 working days, or with a reasonable permitted extension where weighing up the public interest is particularly complex.”
A Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy spokesperson said: “It is right that in a contract of this size, the government took expert advice to make sure that we got the best possible deal for consumers.
“The government has robust procedures that follow strict UK procurement legislation. These practices ensure we get value for money out of each contract and resolve any potential conflicts of interest.”