The Information Tribunal has overturned a decision by the Information Commissioner, ordering the Central Office of Information (COI) to disclose information relating to tenders from businesses interested in providing it with reprographic services. By claiming the commercial interests exemption under section 43(2) of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA), the COI had declined to disclose to the complainant, whose tender had been unsuccessful, the COI's tender evaluation forms and scores of the other tendering businesses.
When considering the appeal, the Tribunal found that the disclosure of the information would be unlikely to have a detrimental effect on, or be damaging in some way to the commercial interests of the COI and/or of the businesses which submitted the tender evaluation forms.
The Tribunal was not satisfied that the tendering businesses' commercial interests would be likely to be prejudiced for a number of reasons, such as the fact that the evaluation forms were not an assessment of the applicants' performance or the quality of their work. Furthermore, the Tribunal found that the forms did not contain commercially sensitive information, such as pricing details or financial data, and there was no evidence that the COI's criteria were likely to be similar to other buyers of such services.
In relation to the COI's interests, the Tribunal was not satisfied that the COI's commercial interests would be likely to be prejudiced as there was no evidence from any COI supplier that it would be deterred from tendering for COI business as a result of such disclosure. Also, as the COI was a significant purchaser of a range of services, it was unlikely that prospective tendering businesses would provide less information if there was a risk that certain information might be disclosed.
Had the evaluation forms contained pricing details or assessment of the quality of the applicant's work, the Tribunal may well have upheld the Information Commissioner's decision.
The Information Tribunal ordered the COI to disclose the information within 20 days.