Thursday 7 February 2013

HMRC's £8 Lever Arch Files - FOI Answer

Loyal readers will recall that in January this year I submitted a Freedom of Information (FOI) request to HMRC, asking for details of the price that they pay for lever arch files:
"Following on from last week's article about the £8 paid per unit by HMRC for lever arch files, in the absence of any response from HMRC/Number 10 or the Treasury to my tweet requesting details about the costs, I have submitted an FOI to HMRC requesting the unit price of said files.

It will be interesting to see what form of response I receive.
Yesterday I received a response from HMRC.

The good news is that they know the price that they pay for lever arch files.


The bad news is that they won't tell me, lest it prejudice the commercial interests of HMRC.


Here is HMRC's reply (doubtless filed in one of those £8 lever arch files!):
"Information Policy & Disclosure
Room 1C/23
100 Parliament Street


Mr K Frost
[FOI #145496 email] 
020 7147 0034 
020 7147 0666
6 February 2013 
Our ref 
Your ref  Dear Mr Frost

I refer to your request which we received on 14 January 2013, for the following information:
"… the latest expenditure figures that detail the unit cost to the taxpayer of purchasing
lever arch files for use by HMRC."

I can confirm HMRC holds this information but it is being withheld under Section 43(2), of The Freedom of Information Act 2000. This exemption allows a public authority to withhold information if disclosure would, or would be likely to, prejudice the commercial interests of any person (including the public authority holding it). 
We consider disclosure of such commercially sensitive information could weaken the
relationship between ourselves and the contracted supplier. In applying this exemption, we have had to balance the public interest in withholding the information against the public interest in disclosure.

I accept there is a strong public interest in HMRC being as transparent as possible about its contracts with commercial entities, and the public have a right to know that the public purse is being expended wisely and also that departments are getting value for money. Disclosing the requested information would demonstrate HMRC’s willingness to be open about its contractual arrangements.

However, disclosure of commercially sensitive information could undermine the commercial interests of both parties and potentially the efficacy of the agreement we have with our contracted supplier. Furthermore, it could have an inhibiting effect on other third parties currently, or potentially, doing business with Government departments and therefore on the Government’s ability to secure value for money, which would not be in the public interest.
Release of information which could damage companies commercially would discourage them from dealing with the public sector and would undermine the necessary mutual trust and respect between private and public sector partners.

Information is available in large print, audio and Braille formats. 
Text Relay service prefix number – 18001

So on balance I conclude it is not in the public interest to set aside the exemption.

If you are not happy with this reply you may request a review by writing to HMRC FOI Team, Room 1C/23, 100 Parliament Street London SWIA 2BQ or email [email address].
You must request a review within 2 months of the date of this letter. It would assist our review if you set out which aspects of the reply concern you and why you are dissatisfied.  
If you are not content with the outcome of an internal review, you may apply directly to the Information Commissioner for a decision. The Information Commissioner will not usually consider a case unless you have exhausted the internal review procedure provided by HMRC. He can be contacted at The Information Commissioner’s Office, Wycliffe House, Water Lane, Wilmslow, Cheshire SK9 5AF.

Yours sincerely
Well then!

Tax does have to be taxing.

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  1. The price is £8 then - 'cause HMRC are too embarrassed to publish the actual value. And it would spoil the relationship with their supplier who is taking it in hand over fist.

    It would worth taking the FOI request a step further and appeal it. It's cannot be the whole deal with the supplier, only a tiny part so cannot affect the relationship.

  2. WTF!!!

    What else are they hiding if the mere question as to how much they are paying £8 for something I have seen for sale at £0.99 retail inc. 20% VAT (no bulk discount applied).

    Perhaps the answer gives an indication as to their real feelings towards the "customer" who pays their wage as well as the cost of very expensive and apparently undiscounted stationery!

    Wonder what their magnificent facilities and travel booking arrangements are really costing the taxpayer.

    Perhaps Ken should join forces with a few others and organise a hard hitting Govt. e-petition? It would not take much to get the Pensioners on board with SA payers closely following.

  3. Once again we see indications of the contempt for taxpayers that HMRC has. If this extrapolated across their purchasing regieme it creates an image of wasted money that is nothing short of a National disgrace, taken further, if the rest of the public sector acts in a similar way a nightmare unfolds.

    It's our money folks, I know what I have done, what are you prepared to do sheeple?!

  4. Doh!

    Homer promoted to CEO of the FSA (that's the Food Standards Agency not the Financial Services Authority!).

    There is no longer any excuse for the ongoing tragedy that is HMRC, bring down the curtain on this mess.

    Even the shills appear to be having trouble coming up with reasonable excuses.

  5. £8 for a lever arch file, I have just been on-line and there are loads of choices avaialble in retail packs of 10 from £8 a pack!

    This has been an example of the politics of the madhouse, are these idiots in HMRC getting paid for these wasteful decision's?

    If, as the reply to the FOI indicates, it is standard practice between HMRC and its "commercially confidential" suppliers, then as far as most sane people will feel it is proof positive that Lean/Pacesetter does not work, and you don't need a whiteboard to work that out.

    There must be a few managers left in HMRC able to stand up and be counted, enough is enough. Last but 2 on the engagement list is an improvement and an opportunity not to be missed!