Broadcasting provider at the Northern Ireland Assembly
Information Standards Freedom of Information Response
Our Ref: FoI 05-19
01 April 2019
Freedom of Information Act 2000
I can confirm that the Northern Ireland Assembly Commission holds information relevant to your request of 5 February 2019 made under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA). In your request you asked for the following information:
"1. The name of the company contracted to provide TV and audio coverage of the NI Assembly proceedings
2. A breakdown of the services this contract provides e.g. if it covers online feeds, provision of TV footage to broadcasters etc.
3. A breakdown of the monthly payments made to this company since the start of January 2018
4. Details of annual payments to this company each year since the contract was awarded.
5. A description of any payment reductions imposed under the contract due to suspension of devolution or a prolonged halt in Assembly proceedings".
Information relating to your request, as set out in your questions 1, 2 and 4 was provided to you on 05 March 2019.
Within that response we explained that, in relation to the remaining questions, we would need further time to determine whether or not the balance of the public interest in disclosing the information is outweighed by the public interest in maintaining the exemption under section 43 FOIA.
We wrote to you again on 20 March 2019 to say that we needed an extra five working days in order to determine this matter further.
I wish to advise that the information that you have requested in your question 3 above, a breakdown of the monthly payments made to Pi Communications since the start of January 2018, has not been disclosed as this information is exempt from disclosure under section 43 of the FOIA and the public interest in disclosing the information is outweighed by the public interest in maintaining the exemption. Please see the attached notice at Appendix A setting out details of the information held by the Northern Ireland Assembly and reasons for the non-disclosure.
Please see attached at Appendix B a response to your question 5, a description of any payment reductions under the contract due to the suspension of devolution or a prolonged halt in Assembly proceedings.
If you feel that the information we have provided does not meet your request fully, please contact this office as soon as possible. You have the right to request a formal review by the Northern Ireland Assembly Commission and if you wish to do so, please write to me at the above address.
If after such an internal review you are still unhappy with the response, you have the right to appeal to the Information Commissioner's Office, Wycliffe House, Water Lane, Wilmslow, Cheshire SK9 5AF who will undertake an independent review.
If you have any queries about this letter, please contact me. Please remember to quote the reference number above.
Information Standards and Data Protection Officer
Section 43(2) of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 states: -
"Information is exempt information if its disclosure under the Act would, or would be likely to, prejudice the commercial interests of any person (including the public authority holding it)"
This exemption applies where disclosure would, or would be likely to, impact on the ability of an organisation to secure future business by allowing competitors access to their particular pricing and methodology, providing an opportunity to copy this, undercut their prices and provide contenders with competitive advantage.
Disclosure of pricing is likely to weaken an organisation's position in a competitive environment by revealing market sensitive information or information of potential usefulness to its competitors. Disclosure of pricing is likely to weaken the organisation's position in this market place, providing competitors an opportunity to undercut their prices and therefore provide competitive advantage and secure future business.
In disclosing the information requested at question 3, by providing a monthly breakdown, the Northern Ireland Assembly Commission would be disclosing the current provider's exact pricing model.
It is therefore likely that release of the requested figures would prejudice the commercial interests of the contractor and compromise future procurements. Such disclosure would compromise the fairness of that process by enabling other bidders to calculate the original pricing model of the current provider.
Specifically, this would be likely to undermine the procurement process, compromise any future bid by the current provider and therefore prejudice the commercial interests of the current contractor.
It would also be likely to prejudice the commercial interests of the Northern Ireland Assembly Commission as it would be detrimental to the Northern Ireland Assembly Commission's ability to negotiate with bidders in order to achieve best value for money on behalf of the public.
The Public Interest Test
S.43 (2) is a qualified exemption and therefore it is necessary to carry out a public interest test to identify whether the public interest in maintaining the exemption is greater than that in providing the information.
In this case the public interest in disclosure is out-weighed by the public interest in maintaining the exemption.
There is a significant public interest in ensuring proper scrutiny of the Northern Ireland Assembly Commission's spend of public money here is a significant public interest in ensuring that Northern Ireland Assembly Commission's commercial activities are conducted in an open and transparent way.
The Northern Ireland Assembly Commission must ensure transparency and accountability in spending public money. The information, as a whole has been released in the response dated 5th March 2019 and in this response in a comprehensive format, although not broken down as requested. This maximizes transparency while minimizing prejudice to the commercial interests of the Northern Ireland Assembly Commission and the contractor.
There is a strong and legitimate public interest in private companies being able to compete in a commercial market on a level playing field, and disclosure of the withheld information, which would be likely to prejudice that ability to
compete, would undermine that public interest.
Further, there is a strong public interest in ensuring that the ability of the Northern Ireland Assembly Commission to secure value for public money is not undermined and that the integrity of a future procurement process for broadcasting services is protected.
"5. A description of any payment reductions imposed under the contract due to suspension of devolution or a prolonged halt in Assembly proceedings".
Three variations of the contract that have led to payment reductions have been made since 2017. The savings to date are £94,500.