21st December 2012
As Christmas approaches, it was announced today that Wirral Council are one of only 4 public bodies to face a three month period of ICO monitoring, commencing in January 2013. They are the only English Council to face the regime this time around.
It’s happened before, but the same staff and councillors appear to have learned very little; unlike the other 18 (count them) councils mentioned at this link – who appear to have upped their game and not re-appeared on the list this time. Is this second appearance on the ‘naughty list’ another first for Wirral? Who knows? But they could begin to make a habit of it, given the convergence of their deep-seated, unchecked arrogance and the wider climate of cuts.
Having dealt with Wirral Council for some years, the news doesn’t surprise me one bit. Let me reassure you, they are every bit as bad as this decision to monitor implies – and probably worse. I won’t trot out all of my dismal experiences here, but here’s a link to some analysis of a few of my own requests, which will be updated in the New Year, but should give you a flavour of the inertia that the public are greeted with by default – and the level of importance this council attaches to the public’s statutory right to Freedom of Information and Data Protection.
In the following article, whoever the Liverpool Echo interviewed from Wirral felt it necessary to blame the public once again by indicating that one citizen is the source of a fifth of all complaints. And yet again, there’s an inability to acknowledge that they’ve been mired in scandal upon fiasco upon further scandal since well into the last century.
As I’ve said before, no organisation can grapple with a deep-seated problem such as this until self-awareness fully hits home and it stops going down the easy route of blaming other people for its own desperate, self-inflicted failures.
As far as Freedom of Information is concerned, with the wider climate of cuts and job losses, and with Wirral Council’s tendency to hit out and take potshots at the public who voted them into power, I expect more of the same and for the abusive masters clutching the whip hand to thrash about and sink even deeper into the miserable foetid swamp of their own creation.
Wirral just don’t get it – Freedom of Information report to Councillors- 3rd September 2012
Please see the following link to an article in the Wirral Globe, dated today, 3rd September 2012:
Then read the following report, written up by Wirral’s “Head of IT Services”. My first observation is… Why mix in LGO complaints with FoI complaints? It’s not very helpful to conflate the two, and a muddying of the water.
As far as Freedom of Information goes, much of the emphasis throughout this report seems to fall upon unnamed members of the public, who’ve had the temerity to raise a large number of requests. There’s a reference to a table titled, “Top Ten Originators of FOI Requests” – a kind of rogues’ gallery, which is worth reproducing here.
The implication is that they resisted the urge to reproduce citizens’ names publicly in this report. That would have been both stupid & outrageous.
Originator 1 has made eleven times more requests than Originator 2. I’d suggest that if, as the data controller, you’re justified in going down the road of blaming a small number of people making a large number of requests – which you certainly are not – then this is your problem person ! 1 person making 245. There’s no need for the rest of the table in fact.
And who exactly decides what is excessive? Are Originators 8, 9 and 10, (making 7 requests each in a whole year) too much for Wirral Council to cope with? Do they deserve to be lumped in? Give us a break !
It’s quite clear that “Originators” 2 thru 10 are merely “padding” – having only made between 22 and 7 requests in the whole year, or a total of 98, translating to an average of just over 10 (less than one a month) between them. Can they really be part of a groundswell of ‘unseemly and pernicious FoI requesting’ breaking out all across Wirral?
As rumour and innuendo seem to have been given free rein, it appears our elected councillors, the intended recipients of this report, are being urged to believe that despite the council doing its utmost, a small number of people (with an axe to grind?) …are making life very difficult for hard-pressed FoI officers (all one of them, plus an assistant). How can staff cope if the sheer volume of requests prevents them from doing their jobs effectively?
It doesn’t suit the report’s author to bring everything into context and refer to any of the important statutory provisions and protections detailed within the Act. It seems to have been more convenient for him to invoke an ‘out of control public’, egged on by stories in the newspapers, then juxtapose that alongside carefully selected keywords e.g. vexatious; repeated; obsessive; harassing; causing distress; significant burden; distraction; disruption; annoyance; lacking serious purpose or value.
Neither does Mr Paterson mention the fact that Wirral have dedicated only two staff to the problem ~ one data / info professsional and an admin assistant. Which kind of sums up the level of importance Wirral have attached to addressing the public’s statutory information and data querying rights.
Sadly, the report’s purpose is to run, headlong, with the tactics of smear. The heavy hint to councillors is that all of these requests are somehow “vexatious”. There’s no reference to the fact that a person / requester cannot be vexatious, because the truth would be inconvenient in this case – and detract from the message.
In addition to the above, the formal ICO description of the “vexatious request” is helpfully given to councillors by the report writer – seemingly intended to “point them in the right direction”. And despite the report’s clear desire to cast far and wide for blame, rather than look inward, and perhaps put the focus onto the council’s own resources, there are some curious omissions closer to home:
- The person making 245 requests in the last year has not been challenged for placing vexatious requests – possibly because not one of those requests is repetitious, invalid or frivolous in any way and therefore cannot be refused under the Act. Well, I can’t think of any other reason not to get tough with “Mr Sheffield” !
- The Freedom of Information Act 2000 makes absolutely no provision for data controllers to shift the blame across to “requesters who make a large number of requests” in order to mask their own poor performance. The council will be fully aware of this – but it seems they’d rather gloss over that and spin some irresponsible nonsense to the wider public (Wirral Globe) & councillors (the report)
- The Freedom of Information Act 2000 doesn’t place a limit on the number of requests an individual can make to any particular data controller. Every public body, including Councils, NHS Trusts, the police, has statutory obligations, and is required to meet and resource those accordingly. Wirral’s information governance appears woefully under-resourced, with practitioners preferring instead to fail, plod on, muddy the water, and stir up a cynical smoke screen
- The erstwhile head of FoI, and Acting Chief Executive Ian Coleman is currently suspended from work (UPDATE: Along with a number of colleagues, he’s since been cleared and paid off with an (un)healthy wodge of public money)
There’s another angle. Wirral aligns itself alongside “other local authorities” and claims that it is receiving a “disproportionately higher amount of enquiries compared to those of a similar size”. The public don’t doubt that at all, but there ARE reasons for this. There are some rather startling yet unacknowledged facts; in the shape of quite horrendous albatrosses, draped across the shoulders of Wirral Council:
- They’re an abusive council (see 7.1). It is currently “reimbursing (or so we’re told)” an extra £440,000 to numerous abused learning disabled tenants in supported living accommodations across the Wirral, in addition to the £243,000 already paid out pre-Klonowski report; this followed hot on the heels of the plundering of 16 learning disabled tenants’ bank accounts in 3 supported living establishments in Moreton
- They have four directors currently suspended, including the former Head of Freedom of Information ~ UPDATE: Three have now received ££stonking pay offs: Director of Law Bill Norman and Director of Finance Ian Coleman ~ FURTHER UPDATE: Suspended Director David Green has been cleared and welcomed back into the fold. STILL FURTHER UPDATE: Green has now been paid off in the sum of £103,000 – which breaches the upper limit laid down by central government
- They’ve squandered millions upon millions of pounds through repeated cataclysmic failure and serious breaches of European Law within a number of high profile contracts
- They ignored the warnings of whistleblower Martin Morton, forced him out of his job in 2008, buried themselves in denial and cover up, tried and failed to massage downwards the true figure stolen from disabled people, and have hardly been out of Private Eye (see the current issue) and the local papers ever since
- Then Chief Executive Officer Jim Wilkie was forced to ‘apologise’ in person to Martin Morton for proven corporate bullying following the release of the Martin Smith report
- They’ve been in and out of the highest courts fighting and appealing judgments tooth and nail in a legal battle with a local service provider over £multi-million sums of public money
- In January 2012, they allowed two senior DASS officers to depart in controversial circumstances; (12th November 2012 UPDATE : and paid them a total of over £220,000 for their silence) an act which may have enabled abuse to rear its ugly head elsewhere, because of their ongoing reluctance to root out and discipline abusers… FS50438500, currently being appealed at the First Tier Information Tribunal – UPDATE: The appeal failed
The above list is by no means exhaustive. Wirral recently let slip the identity of another public-spirited whistleblower. It was published in full view of the world on the council’s website. Many have interpreted this as a deliberate “shot across the bows” of any principled staff members who may be contemplating blowing the whistle themselves.
There are countless more scandals and fiascos, too numerous to mention. Predictably, ‘other councils’, similarly sized or not, don’t tend to boast such horrific roll-calls of corporate bullying, malpractice, attempted cover up, repeated abuse and suspected impropriety, going back well over a decade, and on into the last century. Hence, the all too understandable response from the public, a legitimate and compelling desire as concerned citizens (who hand over a great deal of money in council tax): to find out what the hell is going on.
Given the above Council report, which is just the latest addition to the ongoing fiasco, the people of Wirral must be doubtful that those at the top have ever digested and fully understood the AKA report. With the situation so dire, and with vulnerable people still struggling under this basket case of a Council, self-awareness is all. Sadly, the top people appear myopic at best, blind at worst to progressive solutions – and are falling into the same old traps all over again.
There’s no perceived commitment to good old-fashioned public service – despite the calling in of an LGA “improvement board” – which has already been seen to omit important issues raised by the local public from the minutes of its public meetings. I attended an improvement board meeting on 22nd June this year, went before them and lodged a clear and detailed question on accountability for people believed to have been involved in abuse. These were two former senior officers who dodged any disciplinary sanction, and were then paid off and gagged (total £220,000) within a legal document. When the minutes arrived, they’d been generalised; homogenised, with all the discomfiting points related to the clear enabling of abuse omitted.
Thank you Wirral. Job done. How convenient. How self-serving; but not very open; not very transparent; not at all accountable, and certainly NOT an “improvement”.
The fact we’ve had no reckoning for past abuses means they’re still locked into complete denial ~ spinning, protecting, shielding and concealing everything within a destructive vacuum – a kind of black hole that consumes all, destroys any light, and succeeds only in “churning out heat and smoke”; the intention being to protect the power, obscure the issues, and pave the way for future speculators to descend into a pit of abuse, knowing they can emerge clean, and loaded down with a stash of easy money to disappear with over the horizon when the time comes.
That’s what happens with proven basket case authorities, blind to accountability. Chancers and those on the make see an opportunity – and become desperate to join in and raid the public purse – where they know there’s a good chance they’ll get away with it.
24th November 2012