An appealing question: how much did this cost?

By Dominic Ponsford The National Maritime Museum is being taken to
the ultimate appeal by a journalist over its refusal to reveal how much
it paid for an art installation.

The piece, titled Continuum, a
huge “wooden, spring-like structure”, by Conrad Shawcross, was
commissioned as a site-specific piece for the Queen’s House Gallery and
stood there for three months.

Despite the fact that the museum
receives £15 million a year of public funding, it initially refused to
divulge how much it paid for the piece.

Now Matthew Davis,
director of Sussex-based agency John Connor Press Associates, has taken
his demand for information to the Information Tribunal.

However,
the National Maritime Museum told Press Gazette that it “spontaneously”
revealed in June, six months after Davis’s request, that it paid
£13,000 for Continuum.

Davis said he was pressing on with his
appeal in order to establish a principle and because the museum should
have revealed the information when he initially requested it in January.

Next week’s tribunal hearing will be the first of its kind under the now yearold Freedom of Information regime.

Davis
appealed the museum decision first with its own managers, as the rules
state, and then took it to the information commissioner, Richard Thomas.

After
Thomas rejected the appeal as well, he took the matter to the
Information Tribunal, where it is now due to be given a full hearing.

Davis
said: “A public authority could claim this exemption [commercial
interests] for information about anything it buys if I’m not successful
on appeal.”

He added that he has been making regular use of the FoI Act since it came into force.

Davis currently has several appeals waiting to be heard by the information commissioner.

He has appealed to the commissioner over the refusal of the National Portrait

Gallery to reveal how much it paid last year for a video by Sam Taylor-Wood of David Beckham sleeping.

Appeals
are also in on Sussex police’s refusal to reveal the number of people
on the Sex Offenders Register who live in each town in the county.

And
Davis has tabled an appeal over the refusal of East Sussex Hospitals
NHS Trust to reveal the pay-off (rumoured to be £300,000) that was
given to an outgoing chief executive.

Davis said: “FoI is a
fantastic tool for journalists if it is used properly. And if public
authorities applied it properly it would be even more useful.

“Many public authorities will do anything to avoid giving you the information that you are entitled to.”

Davis’ Information Tribunal hearing is being held at 10am on 16 December at 110 New Bridge Street, central London.

Davis
is representing himself at the hearing against the National Maritime
Museum and the Department of Culture, Media and Sport.

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