Sunday, 24 April 2011

Lies, Damn Lies and FOI Responses

Barnet Council have helpfully put a link to their publication scheme on the front page of their website. This lists information which may be of interest to the public. It also details the disclosure log which is a record of Freedom Of Information (FOI) requests that the Council feel are of a wider public interest. Clear there is a difference of opinion on what is of a wider public interest as there are a number of notable absences from the log such as:

• How long it takes to fix a parking meter in Barnet;
• How much is raised in parking charges and how much are parking maintenance costs;
• How many days did a parking meter collect zero funds (one meter took no income for 8 months); and
• How much loss/profit is made by Barnet council on allotments?

There are some interesting disclosures listed which include the £10,035 the Chief Executive was paid as returning officer and that he claimed no expenses in 2009/10. It also revealed that the total paid out for damages claims caused by potholes (including costs) was £168,283 with the largest single claim of £5,414.17 for damage to the gearbox of a Mercedes.

Now we come to the bit that really worries me and that is the discrepancies in some of the FOI answers provided.

First of all is the cost of replacing and upgrading IT equipment. In the published statement it states that “The cost of purchasing the new laptops and tablets is £270k.” Now we know that that cannot be correct because they it also states that they purchased 2,450 new laptops and tablet computers and we also know from a previous FOI request submitted by Barnet Bugle that the cost per laptop including all the add on bits (docking station, ultra slim battery, separate TFT screen, keyboard and a mouse) is approximately £1,500 each. So how do they arrive at a cost of £270k when it is closer to £3.7 million? Beats me.

Maybe the list of away days conveniently stopped before the lovely £15,000 awayday break at the Sandbanks hotel was clocked up.

Now we come to suppliers. The council produces a list of companies with which the council has contracts. A few interesting examples are as follows:

Council states Logica plc contract value £13k. Openly Local says the value for Logica CMG UK Ltd (which I believe is probably one and the same) £1,635,960 – bit of a difference there.

No mention of Norwest Holst, £8,204,569; Catalyst, £7,977,334; Dimensions (ADP)Ltd, £3,491,107; Barnet Lighting, £2,527,493; Ridgeland Properties, £2,338,036 and so on and so on. One contract noticeable by its absence is for MetPro – maybe because there wasn’t a contract just, an arrangement.

I would urge all Barnet residents to scrutinise these details very closely because it is our borough where we all live, it is our money they are spending and it is in our name they are acting. We all need to take responsibility to see how the council is run and to shout up if we don’t agree with the decisions taken in our name.

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