FOI frustration

My experience last week confirms criticisms by Information Commissioner Rosemary Agnew (your report, 11 December) and Alex Orr (Letters, 10 December) that our rights under Freedom of Information risk being eroded.

The Valuation Office (VO) – an HMRC agency – advised Fife Council that green-belt land it intends to buy from a developer, for our secondary school’s relocation, justified only an agricultural price, with no “hope value uplift”.

Within four weeks, the VO changed its advice, agreeing “in the circumstances” an uplift of 12 times that value.

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Also, Fife Council asserts that the VO rejected an exchange of the existing school site, which St Andrews University would like, for other non green-belt ground the university owns, as their relative values were imbalanced.

But that imbalance arises because the VO compared only the agricultural value with no “hope value uplift”.

Applying the 12x multiplier agreed for the developer cancels all the imbalance.

Moreover, Section 4 of the Disposal of Land by Local Authorities (Scotland) Regulations 2010 permits such exchange deals whatever the relative values.

Under FOI, I requested the VO to explain its amended valuation advice to Fife Council and its refusal to sanction the exchange deal for the school site – which in effect apparently favours a private firm over another semi-public body.

My request did not concern the developer or his confidential information.

However, the VO’s reply asserts that it cannot divulge any such information as “it relates to other taxpayers”.

Tony Blair’s claim that the FOI Act was his greatest regret as prime minister is surely unnecessary if very reasonable requests are stonewalled.

John Birkett CA

Horseleys Park

St Andrews