Investigation: Sheffield's major venues, taxpayers' money and the information blackout
Pages of blacked out boxes.
This is the reply from Sheffield Council to a Freedom of Information request about the city's major sporting and leisure facilities.
A year ago, the Local Democracy Service asked the council for correspondence regarding Sheffield City Trust, and its management arm Sheffield International Venues.
The FOI focused on any correspondence which referred to staff redundancies, the closure of venues and grant aid from Sheffield Council over a four month period.
In particular, it asked for correspondence between senior officers, former Council Leader Julie Dore, former Cabinet member for Leisure Coun Mary Lea; interim chief executive Charlie Adan, Coun Neale Gibson - who was the council's representative at SIV meetings - and members of the SIV board of trustees.
The council says the redaction is because of either "commercially sensitive" or "legally privileged information".
But it concerns taxpayers' money because back in 2019 the council bailed out SIV with emergency funding.
Council officers said the Trust was "haemorrhaging cash" and gave a £1 million emergency loan, followed later by a £2.8 million subsidy and £3 million grant for maintenance and safety.
Officers said the Trust was hit by austerity but its financial reporting wasn’t as robust as it should have been.
In October 2019, council director Ryan Keyworth told a meeting: "Grant Thornton accountants were commissioned to look at the books and reported that the Trust was not putting sufficient focus in their board meeting on cash flow and their reporting mechanisms were not as good as they could be."
In November 2019, Coun Simon Clement-Jones, shadow Cabinet member for Finance, told a meeting: “Sheffield Council has committed millions of taxpayers' money to rescue the drowning Trust from cash flow issues and falling down buildings.
“We are concerned about the Trust’s ability to manage their own finances and how they were allowed to get into such a state of disarray."
Parts of the FOI, which was submitted in August 2020, still have not been returned. The council has "apologised sincerely" for the delay and says there's a significant backlog due to the pandemic.
Coun Shaffaq Mohammed, Leader of the Liberal Democrats, said the council had to start being more transparent.
"This redaction is overkill. How can the press, public or opposition councillors hold the council to account if this level of redaction continues?
"I am deeply uncomfortable about this. The council's leadership says it wants to be open but we need action not words."
Council director Mark Gannon said the council was "absolutely committed" to people’s right to know about its activities.
"We strongly operate on a presumption in favour of disclosure. On occasion, there are strict reasons that apply to all public bodies, why we are not able to disclose information.
"We apply careful judgement on every request when making such decisions, whether that’s to protect people’s privacy or because of commercial interests, for example. This is always in line with and steered by the Freedom of Information Act.”