Friday, 6 April 2012

Little boxes (Part 2)

Readers may remember my recent efforts to extract the expenses details of thirteen senior officers from a reluctant Carmarthenshire council. A contorted refusal was issued on the grounds that to retrieve the information would exceed the cost limit. An internal review yielded a similar reply (don't they always?) The council's response was also late, exceeding the legal time limit. The WhatDoTheyKnow link to the full thread of the request is here.

I took my complaint to the ICO who decided that, given the council's present 'system', it would exceed the cost limit to  provide the information. The full response will be on the ICO website soon and I will provide a link for those who wish to view the details, there were issues concerning the 'legibility of the handwriting' and whether the forms were at 'the front of a box or at the back of a box', you get my drift.

The ICO did find against the council for their late response.

The council had offered to disclose a sprinkling of details which had been logged here and there through the ResourceLink system. I didn't make a request for this as I wanted all the information, not part of it, to be made public. I may request this in the future.

As I said after the intial refusal, the information is stored in various boxes under a dickensian filing system scattered around County Hall, reminiscent of my trek through the corridors of County Hall to view the dusty ledgers of the Members' register of interest closely chaperoned by the Head of 'democratic' services (see The Sacred Parchments) My request for the register of officer's interests also required a nudge from the ICO to the Council; the nudge produced an extra 51 pages which had been 'overlooked' during my initial request and the internal review, 46 of those pages concerned the Chief Executive.

The Council needs to understand that, despite efforts by the Tory government to restrict the use of FoI (by, for example, trying to charge for requests), it's not going to go away. The archaic 'systems', the secretive attitude and selective disclosure to avoid bad press, all needs addressing and kicking into the present day. It's about time the senior management of this council realised that there's a general public out there paying their wages, who would like to know and have every right to know, not only how their money is spent but what hidden 'extras' they are paying for too.


Nospin said...

If their filing system is so poor they cannot retrieve the expenses of 13 senior councils I would be very concerned at their ability to run that council and would also like to know how the auditors manage.

The simple way to cut down the cost of foi requests is to have everything computerised and publish virtually everything as it occurs with a list of what is witheld and why.

with meeting on planning applications or new policies etc, the minutes and results should all be piublishe dat the end.

Money matters all expenditure over £50 should be published as should all expense claims and payments, IT IS OUR MONEY AFTER ALL.

towy71 said...

Yet another good post Jacqui, 'tis to be hoped that the forthcoming election will sweep aside some of the old guard and you are a part of the new guard of a more liberal (note the small el) ;-) regime