July 2012

Request:

Re. www.official-documents.gov.uk can I ask how much this costs The National Archives per annum? Is it part of the print contract you have with TSO and is there anywhere I can see a breakdown of this contract which will answer my question?

Outcome:

Part successful.

Response:

The Official Documents website to which you refer in your enquiry is part of the wider 'Command and Other Papers' contract, managed by The National Archives on behalf of government. As such, The National Archives does not make any direct payment to the contractor for the Official Documents service, and the charge to supply the service is not accounted for separately.

We are unable to provide you with a breakdown of the full 'Command and Other Papers' contract because a qualified exemption was engaged for some of the information you have requested. This is because some of the information which you are looking for is covered by section 43(2) of the Freedom of Information Act 2000.

The FOI Act gives you the right to know whether we hold the information you want and to have it communicated to you, subject to any exemptions which may apply.

Section 43(2) exempts information where disclosure would be likely to prejudice the commercial interests of any individual or organisation and protects not only the commercial interests of third parties but also the commercial interests of the public authority that holds the information. When this exemption applies we are required to consider whether it is in the public interest to release the information. However, if it is decided that the public interest would not be served by releasing the information we will explain the reasons for this.

Having completed the public interest test for this exemption it has been decided that Section 43 (2) of the Freedom of Information Act applies to some of the information you have requested.

When considering the balance of the public interest we acknowledge that there is an argument in favour of disclosure of commercial information to ensure that there is transparency in the accountability of public funds.

Through consultation with those involved in the process it has been determined that to supply information on how the contractor receives income for the service it provides would provide competitors with commercially sensitive information and affect potential future tender arrangements. Thus to release details of how the contractor receives its income would prejudice the commercial interests of this organisation.

To affect future competition for any organisation hoping to win a bid would not be in the public interest. This is because it is in the interests of the public that any tender for a public sector contract is conducted with fair competition in order to negotiate the best service for the best price. Organisations who are involved in public sector contracts need to have confidence that information they supply, which would affect their on-going commercial interests, would not be released. If this confidence is lost, it could affect the ability of the public sector to attract enough businesses who want to work with them, thus reducing the competition.

Therefore, as the release of the specific details of how the contractor receives its income would prejudice the commercial interests of a third party, by adversely affecting their position during any future contractual negotiations; the arguments in favour of withholding the information outweigh the arguments for disclosure at this current time. Thus the balance of the public interest test lies with maintaining the use of this exemption and non-disclosure of the information contained within the contract.

It should also be emphasised that as the contract was let in 2006 it is not covered by subsequent developments with regards to the government transparency policy on publishing contracts. This would be reviewed in any future tender for services.