The First Tier Tribunal General Regulatory Chamber (Information Rights) (the “FTT”), in the case of Alan Matthews v Information Commissioner [2014] EA/2012/0147, ruled that – despite being “personal data” – the name and qualifications of a private consultant should be released in response to a request under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (“FOIA”). This overturned a June 2012 decision by the Information Commissioner (the “ICO”) that such information was exempt from release.

In 2011, an FOIA request was made by an individual, Alan Matthews, who had been unsuccessful in a bidding process to a now-defunct Local Development Agency, Business Link West Midlands Ltd (“Business Link”). An independent consultant had advised on the design of Business Link’s tendering process, and the individual believed it to be flawed.

The ICO then ruled that the identity of the consultant was exempt information under s40(2) FOIA, as it was personal data, and disclosure would contravene the principles of the Data Protection Act 1998.

In this appeal, the FTT ruled:
“…we believe there is a significant public interest in the disclosure of the identity of a consultant whose approval of a public contract tendering process is relied upon by a public authority to provide assurance as to its effectiveness and fairness. Against that we do not think that an individual accepting a role in the design and operation of such a process should expect to remain anonymous. He or she has taken on a public role and should expect to be answerable, alongside his or her client, for their respective roles in the project.”

Public authorities (and consultants who are engaged by them) should therefore be aware that the identity and professional credentials of consultants may have to be released to the public in the event of an FOIA request where a cogent public interest can be demonstrated.