DfE still refuses to release costs of free school sites it holds

Janet Downs's picture

It would cost too much reveal the purchase price of freeholds for free school sites, the Department for Education told me in February.  It said it was not obliged to agree to my Freedom of Information (FoI) request because doing so would ‘exceed the cost threshold’ of extracting the data.  I was advised to narrow my request.

One of the suggestions was to limit the request.  The example given was ‘acquisition costs on sites where the department owns the Freehold’.

As advised, I submitted a request for these acquisition costs on 15 February. 

Despite following the DfE’s advice, my narrowed request was refusednot on cost grounds but by using Section 22 of the FoI Act.  This allows FoI requests to be turned down if there’s an intention to publish in the future.  The costs would appear on the spreadsheet showing capital funding for open free schools, the DfE said.

I asked for an internal review because the spreadsheet would not show acquisition costs for sites intended for free schools but which haven't opened.

I’ve now received the result.  The internal review says the DfE was wrong to refuse my request using Section 22 because the published info wouldn’t relate to freehold acquisitions.

But the DfE still hasn’t released the information because, wait for it, it would cost too much to extract it. I could narrow the request to a particular area or academic year.

I get the feeling the DfE is running me around in circles. 



FOOTNOTE:  There were 145 freehold sites held by the DfE for future free schools in the financial year 2017/18.

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