Friday, 13 April 2012

Cllr Cornelius and FOI requests that never get answered

In today's Barnet Press Cllr Cornelius has written a piece which, amongst other things, has a go at "an individual" for submitting too many Freedom of Information requests.

Well Cllr Cornelius, I would just like to get my FOI's answered but your officers seem to enjoy avoiding some of my requests. On November 22 last year I submitted an FOI request regarding RM Countryside, a supplier to Barnet Council. My request was as follows:

Please can you provide me with all Delegated Powers Reports that feature council supplier R.M. Countryside Services Limited since 1 April 2005 (with the exception of DPR1419 which is already available) and a list of all Barnet Council tenders in which R.M. Countryside Services Limited were successful since 1 April 2005.

There was a very good reason for submitting this FOI which I will not go into here but it is a serious matter and definitely not frivolous.

Receipt of my FOI request was acknowledged on 1 December 2011 and since then Barnet Council have refused to answer or even acknowledge any follow up requests on 3 January, 30 January and 8 March. Forget 20 days to get a response, I've waited 20 weeks and I still have not got an answer.

Cllr Cornelius needs to understand that the reason people submit FOI request is because Barnet is a deeply secretive organisation and one which seem to thrive on withholding information. Cllr Cornelius may recall that I asked him a question during public questions section at a council meeting last year. His response was "well perhaps you should submit a Freedom of Information Request". Not very helpful or constructive!

The scrutiny process in Barnet if flawed. There is no scrutiny whatsoever of the One Barnet Programme and residents are forbidden from asking questions on such matters at residents forums. Submitting FOI requests is the only way to try and get information out of the council and, baqsed on my experience, even that doesn't work.

On Monday I will be submitting a complaint to the Information Commissioners Office about the Council's refusal to comply with the Freedom of Information legislation, something which will take time and cost money for the council - but what alternative do I have?

In future I suggest Cllr Cornelius stops moaning about FOI requests in the local paper and start sorting out the obsessive, secretive and obstructive culture that exists within the Council.


  1. There is a culture of secrecy which permeates through every fibre of the council’s being. This is a deliberate corporate policy and Nick Walkley could, if he so wished, instigate a genuine policy of openness and accountability. Unfortunately, it is not in the mindset of public officials to act in this way. They are used to doing what they want, when they want and chief officers do not take kindly to the public questioning and challenging their decisions.

    The Information Commissioner is aware that Barnet council has form with regard to its persistent failure to comply with the Freedom of Information Act, but as there are no effective sanctions, the council will continue to flout the law with impunity. Some councils would be embarrassed to be on the receiving end of a negative report from the Commissioner, but as we know all too well, in Barnet the Council simply doesn’t give a shit what anyone thinks of it.

  2. I think I may be the person referred to as "an individual" John. I also have requests outstanding from December and even earlier. Let me firstly say that is not the fault of officers in governance who respond to FOI. They would like to do their job but there are not enough of them and their answers get meddled in. I have sometimes asked that my replies do not get reviewed by the Tooting Twister in Communications (a misnomer if ever there was one as the object is to stifle communications) as I am asking for facts not spin but without asking an FOI question for all the correspondence about a particular FOI answer I won't know who has poked their finger in the FOI pie.

    Barnet Council are the architects of their own misfortune. Publsih everything and FOI would drop to almost zero.

  3. It is time that the ICO put LBB firmly under scrutiny for its persistent abuse of FOI legislation.Cornelius' idiotic comments in the Press are what you might expect from someone who seems never really to follow through the logical progression of his statements.

    If Barnet were truly committed to an open and transparent form of governance, the vast majority of FOIs would be unnecessary: the amount of expense in terms of staff time spent on obstructing and controlling the responses to perfectly valid requests is entirely the fault of the council's leadership and senior management.

  4. DCMD has reminded the council on several occasions that the Commissioner’s best practice guidelines clearly state that councils should publish all information automatically without waiting to be asked (save for information which is lawfully exempt). This would obviate the need for most, if not all, FOI requests made by the public. Barnet consistently refuses to say why it does not follow these guidelines.