Wednesday, 22 August 2012

FoI in meltdown?

A belated response to my latest FoI arrived this morning. It concerned the costs associated with FoI/EIR requests and the Media Department. The full thread of correspondence and further details can be read, as usual, here.

Some information was provided but I was surprised that FoI costs, including internal reviews, were not, and in fact, were not held; I had asked for information already held, and given that the volume of requests had gone up by a third in two years you would think a costing system would have been formulated, there doesn't even appear to be an allowance in the council budget for this entire area, it's certainly not obvious from looking at this anyway.

It's even stranger when you consider the "exceeding the cost limit" refusals I have had, where very precise costing details are set out including, it seems, time and motion studies.

Anyway, it also appears that the FoI department, which is also responsible for ensuring the council complies with the increasingly sensitive areas of Data Protection, is somewhat under resourced with just two employees. Responses are now commonly late putting the council in breach of the law. Plaid's @cjharris85, researcher for the AM and MP mentioned on twitter that his latest request is 13 days late, the second consecutive delay.

As usual for our image conscious council there is an imbalance, the department of truth is far less important than the department of spin. The overactive press team (or 'SirgarPR' to give it it's rebranded title) can boast a core team of seven (eight if you include the current vacancy, for which I might apply), a burgeoning 'Communications' budget allowance (which includes the 'creative accounting' of the council rag) and an official photographer.

Job descriptions include an ability to improve the council's image and, for the Press Manager, who bore the brunt of the latest failed executive coup of the local free press;

"To manage a top quality press operation that will deliver improved relationships, with the press and media resulting in improved coverage for the council"

Oh dear, and I don't suppose 'coverage' includes regular appearances in Private Eye either.

(numerous previous FoI posts, including yesterday's FoI post and this one relating to costs)


william price said...

Please apply for that vacancy!

william price said...

It's very annoying how blind they are about the disgrace it is to appear in Rotten Boroughs of Private Eye.

Cneifiwr said...

Forget about improving image and just start being truthful and telling things as they are. Honesty would do wonders for the council's image.

caebrwyn said...

@william price
They have NO shame.

Mr Mustard said...

Today I received an FOI response in the post, it is dated 20 August 12.

It starts "Thank you for your requuest received on 25th November 2011...."

Later it says "I apologise for the delay ...caused by the complexities of documents retrieval and staff turnover"

I asked for a list of payments (press a button) a report (press another button) and the invocies ( 4 of, press 4 buttons )

Result received in 269 days.

Barnet Council make yours look like a top performer.

Anonymous said...

At least the council will never be able to claim that the public are placing undue strain on public resources by making FOI requests.

It is fairly obvious that they dont know the costs.

Anonymous said...

Alas William Price, despite our Great Reporter possessing the quality and skills of a Press Manager, she doesn't have a snowballs chance as the Authority do not want their dirty laundy aired in public.

Staff turnover, Mr Mustard! Hmm, I wonder why!!! "Complexities of documents retrieval!" Given the speed and efficiency of technology, how on earth can they justify such a statement? If the reason is that the staff do not possess time management and organisational skills, then the Authority need to evaluate their training policies. All it takes is effective and efficient planning and organisation. I am sorry but if the staff are not up to the job, then there are many a jobseeker who would be delighted to take over their role.

Tessa said...

Go for the job Caebrwyn! I'll give you a reference! LMFAO!

Anonymous said...

Surely the council solicitors who act for the Authority when carrying out reviews must do so in a quasi-judicial manner. Presumably they must be proffesional in what they do and must not tend towards the Authority but should be impartial.
Solicitors are regulated by the Law Society and failure to act profesionaly would result in disciplinary action.
Taken together we should be comforted by the fact there checks and balances when it comes to FOI Act reviews.

caebrwyn said...

last @anon, call me cynical but where I (naturally) do not doubt the professionalism of the council's legal staff, one of their roles is to protect the interests of the local authority, and of course one hopes that this does not extend to reputational risk management through FoI reviews.