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Tribunal orders DWP to release IT contract details

Disclosure in public interest

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"However we do not go as far as the DWP to find that it 'would prejudice' their commercial interests as no evidence was provided to show that it was more probable than not and the only evidence was the conjecture of [DWP's lawyer], however genuinely held," it said.

The Tribunal found that Atos's financial model was a trade secret, and therefore deserving of more protection than the other data.

"Where the Tribunal has found that the information is a trade secret there is a strong public interest in protecting such a secret because of the investment likely to be involved and that the disclosure of such a secret could undermine the owner’s business and give competitors a commercial advantage," it said.

The Tribunal said that the financial model did not have to be made public. "We find that it would not be in the public interest that suppliers would in any way be reluctant to provide financial models in large IT outsourcing contracts," said the ruling. "There is strong public interest in knowing that a financial model exists so that the public authority can scrutinise the financials in an outsourcing contract and that there is transparency for example in the pricing of modifications to the contract under the change control process. In our view this factor does not require the disclosure of the model itself only the knowledge that it is part of the contract."

DWP had asked for the location of the data centre in which the system's information is stored to be kept secret as a security measure. Because it had agreed to identify the country it was in so that the public could be sure that it was protected by adequate data protection laws, the Tribunal allowed its exact location to remain a secret.

In relation to the liability caps, benchmarking and other details of the contract, the Tribunal said that the public interest was weighted in favour of disclosure.

"The public interest in knowing that there are adequate service levels and performance measures etc would seem to be a much weightier factor when considering the importance of the Gateway to citizens and organisations who use the public services which it hosts," it said. "Also because the original contract failed, there is a strong public interest in knowing of any increased costs of the 2006 Contract which can be found in the change control notices.

"We also find there is a strong public interest in being open about the Benchmarking Model. It is important for the public to know that there is a means by which the DWP will not be paying higher prices for services than Atos’ other customers," said the ruling.

"We therefore find that the public interest in maintaining the exemption does not outweigh the public interest in disclosure," it said.

Copyright © 2010, OUT-LAW.com

OUT-LAW.COM is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.

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