FOI/2015/24

The Request

Received on 9 April 2015

Dear FOI Team

I would like to request the following information under the Freedom of Information Act.    I understand my request will take 20 working days to process but I would be grateful if you could acknowledge receipt via

I note that the Information Commissioner has called for the maximum possible degree of transparency when it comes to matters involving public expenditure.

Please note that the Information Commissioner’s Office has also advised me that there “is nothing in the Freedom of Information Act that allows a public body to refuse to disclose information because they’ve entered purdah.”

1…Does the British Council currently have any LIVE contracts with a company called Hotcourses.  I have for your convenience enclosed a link to the company’s website http://www.hotcourses.com/

2…If the answer is yes can you please provide the following details. In the case of each live contract can you please provide a copy of the contract.  In the case of each contract can you please state the date and time it was signed. In the case of each contract can you state its value and duration.   In the case of each contract can you please provide a brief description of the work covered and the services  being provided by Hotcourses.

3…In the case of each contract can you please state whether they were awarded as part of any competitive tendering exercise and or similar. 

4…Aside for the aforementioned contracts can the British Council please outline other ways in which Hotcourses Ltd is currently providing services to the British Council.    Can you please provide details of the cost of these services.   Can you please state for how long Hotcourses have been providing these services?

5…Can you please indicate whether the work described in section 4 was awarded as part of any competitive tendering exercise and or similar.

6,..Can you please indicate how much the British Council will pay or intends to pay to Hotcourses during the current financial year which is (2015/2016).   Could you also provide details of payments for each of the last five financial years.     These figures will include but will not be limited to the value of any live contracts already referred to.  

Thank you for dealing with my request and I look forward to hearing from you.

Arts Correspondent
Mail on Sunday.

 

Our Response

Responded on 3 June 2015

Case Reference: FOI/2015/24

3 June 2015

Dear

Thank you for your request for information dated 9 April 2015 concerning contracts and payments with Hotcourses. Your request has been handled under the terms of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) 2000 and has been passed to me for reply.

I can confirm, under section 1 (1) (a) of the FOIA, that the British Council does hold the information you have requested.

For your ease of reference, I have restated your questions below in bold and have provided our response beneath each question.

1…Does the British Council currently have any LIVE contracts with a company called Hotcourses.  I have for your convenience enclosed a link to the company’s website http://www.hotcourses.com/

Yes, one for the management of the EducationUK website.

2…If the answer is yes can you please provide the following details.

In the case of each live contract can you please provide a copy of the contract? 

Please find attached a copy of the contract for the management of the EducationUK website.

We are withholding some of the information from within the attached contract since the exemptions under section 43 (2) (Commercial interests) and section 40(2) (Personal information) of the Freedom of Information Act apply.

The exemption under section 43(2) (Commercial interests) allows a public authority to withhold information where it would, or would be likely to, prejudice the commercial interests of any person (including the public authority holding it).

If we were to release the information you have requested it would reveal information about our operations such that our commercial interests, and our partner’s commercial interests, would be prejudiced.

The exemption for commercial interests is subject to the public interest test as stipulated by the Act, which means that the exemption can only be upheld if the public interest in doing so outweighs the public interest in disclosure. The following factors have been considered in favour of disclosing and withholding the information:

Arguments in favour of disclosing the information

• Facilitate accountability in the spending of public money
• General arguments in favour of transparency

Arguments in favour of withholding the information

• Disclosure would weaken our position in a competitive environment by revealing market-sensitive information.
• The harmful affect disclosure of this information would have on future partnerships when entering into commercial activities with Hotcourses. 

On balance we believe that the likely damage to the British Council’s commercial interests means that the public interest in withholding the information outweighs the public interest in disclosure.

The exemption under section 40(2) (Personal information) allows a public authority to withhold information relating to third parties if one of the conditions set out in section 40(3) is satisfied. Under the FOIA disclosure of this information would breach the fair processing principle contained in the Data Protection Act (DPA), where it would be unfair to that person or if it is confidential.

We have redacted names and contact details of individuals where the information is not already in the public domain as it would not be fair to those individuals to disclose.
 
Section 40 is an absolute exemption therefore is not subject to the public interest test.

In the case of each contract can you please state the date and time it was signed.

The Contract for management of the EducationUK website was signed on 23 July 2013. There is no record of a time.

In the case of each contract can you state its value and duration?  

In regards to the EducationUK contract Hotcourses act as an agent for the British Council via what is effectively a Partnership Agreement, rather than a Supplier Agreement. This means that Hotcourses is responsible for selling advertising options to institutions across the EducationUK website and related activities. Amounts vary depending on the success of the site and institution budgets/marketing needs, and therefore are not able to be specified in the contract.

The duration of the EducationUK contract is three years.

In the case of each contract can you please provide a brief description of the work covered and the services being provided by Hotcourses?

Technical and commercial management of the EducationUK website

3…In the case of each contract can you please state whether they were awarded as part of any competitive tendering exercise and or similar. 

The contract was awarded as part of a competitive tender.

4…Aside for the aforementioned contracts can the British Council please outline other ways in which Hotcourses Ltd is currently providing services to the British Council.

Hotcourses provide advertising services to the British Council to support with the promotion of the leading English language test, IELTS, which is jointly owned by the British Council, IDP: IELTS Australia and Cambridge English Language Assessment.

Can you please provide details of the cost of these services?

We are withholding this information since the exemption under section 43 (2) (Commercial interests) applies.

The exemption under section 43(2) (Commercial interests) allows a public authority to withhold information where it would, or would be likely to, prejudice the commercial interests of any person (including the public authority holding it).

If we were to release the information you have requested it would reveal information about our partners operations such that their commercial interests would be prejudiced.

The exemption for commercial interests is subject to the public interest test as stipulated by the Act, which means that the exemption can only be upheld if the public interest in doing so outweighs the public interest in disclosure. The following factors have been considered in favour of disclosing and withholding the information:

Arguments in favour of disclosing the information

• Facilitate accountability in the spending of public money
• General arguments in favour of transparency

Arguments in favour of withholding the information

• Disclosure would weaken Hotcourses position in a competitive environment by revealing information on advertising amounts.

On balance we believe that the likely damage to the British Council’s commercial interests means that the public interest in withholding the information outweighs the public interest in disclosure.

Can you please state for how long Hotcourses have been providing these services?

Hotcourses have been providing similar services to these for the last 6 years.

5…Can you please indicate whether the work described in section 4 was awarded as part of any competitive tendering exercise and or similar.

Yes, advertising is purchased as a result of reviewing all competitive options in the market.

6,..Can you please indicate how much the British Council will pay or intends to pay to Hotcourses during the current financial year which is (2015/2016)?

The British Council does not pay Hotcourses for services relating to the EducationUK website. The build and maintenance of the EducationUK website is funded by advertising contracts with participating institutions. Hotcourses receive the income, take their costs from that income and the remaining funds are split 50-50.

As regards the IELTS advertising, the arrangements for 2015/16 are not yet complete.

Could you also provide details of payments for each of the last five financial years? These figures will include but will not be limited to the value of any live contracts already referred to.  

Total payments to Hotcourses are:

2010/2011 = £219,669.05
2011/2012 = £270,832.61
2012/2013 = £228,296.98
2013/2014 = £96,820.00
2014/2015 = £249,500.23

I hope the information provided has been useful.

If you are dissatisfied with the handling of your request, you have the right to ask for an internal review. Internal review requests should be submitted within two months of the date of receipt of the response to your original letter and should be addressed to:

Freedom of Information Officer
Information Security and Governance
British Council
Bridgewater House
58 Whitworth Street
Manchester
M1 6BB
Email: foi@britishcouncil.org

If you are not content with the outcome of the internal review, you have a right to appeal to the Information Commissioner for a decision at:

The Information Commissioner’s Office
Wycliffe House
Water Lane
Wilmslow
Cheshire
SK9 5AF

Phone: 0303 123 1113
Website: www.ico.gov.uk

Yours sincerely

Information Policy Advisor: FOI | Information Security & Governance

www.britishcouncil.org | www.britishcouncil.org/freedom-of-information