UPDATE – Wirral Council shutters, slammed down and padlocked…

22nd January 2014

Back in early December I made an FoI request to Wirral Council…

https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/street_lighting_switch_off_was_a/new

…asking for details about a street lighting switch off that the council had undertaken, with the aim of saving money.  Not surprisingly, this move caused quite a bit of controversy at the time, which still rumbles on.  A recent accident in Seacombe brought the issue back into the local news.

Very importantly, I managed to find a statement, dated September 2011 from Kevin Ellis, the then Street Lighting Group Manager, whom I discovered today has now left his job at the council.  Furthermore, his old position of Street Lighting Group Manager became a victim to the cuts, and now no longer exists.

Here is Mr Ellis’ statement, under the heading “Other Options Considered”, drawn from a document backing the introduction of a new Control and Management System, which was approved by councillors at the time:

8.2  Switching off lights was not considered to be an appropriate course of action for a predominately urban borough. There would also be the risk of litigation in the event of an accident at a site where the lights had been switched off.

So switching off lights was not exactly being endorsed by the council’s most senior street lighting professional – because Wirral is “a predominately urban borough.”

I’d call that broad and pretty conclusive.  “Did this advice get to councillors?” is the next question.  The answer is a firm “Yes”.  If you click the above statement it takes you to the committee meeting at which this and other issues were raised and approved.  The responsible portfolio holder is Councillor Harry Smith, cabinet member for Highways and Transportation.

The next obvious question, to me at least, is why hasn’t this statement been taken into consideration this time around, when switching off a large number of lights throughout our urban borough?  Or if it has been considered, why wasn’t it followed?  Why does the advice appear to have been discarded?

“Well, we need to save money don’t we?”  would not be a satisfactory answer, given that Mr Ellis had also highlighted a risk of being taken to court over accidents at sites where the lights had been switched off.  Presumably the level of risk that the council ‘copes with’ currently would become heightened due to a large and sudden influx of dark roads – and money might start flowing in the wrong direction, towards defending court cases.  Not to mention the increased risk of injury or death to motorists, passengers, cyclists or pedestrians – whom up to now have been accustomed to driving / cycling on, or crossing lit roads.

Sharp eyed readers may have spotted by now that there’s no author name on the report, provided in answer to the FoI request.  So I’m unable to join the dots.  I don’t know for sure whether Mr Ellis wrote this report, which didn’t really explore any public safety or legal concerns…  but which instead offered a list of ‘suitable’ locations, and appeared to favour switching the lights off.  Had he changed his mind about the ‘appropriateness’ of a switch off some time between September 2011 and December 2013?

Today I emailed Paul Graves, the person now in charge of Wirral’s Street Lighting section:


From: Paul C
Sent: 22 January 2014 12:50
To: Graves, Paul G.
Subject: Lighting Report

Dear Paul,

I rang earlier and your colleague in Streetscene kindly provided me with your email address.

The subject of my query is a very straightforward one.  The FoI section have very kindly answered the following request, which was placed recently:

https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/street_lighting_switch_off_was_a

I don’t know whether you’re familiar with this request, but the first response omitted to mention the lighting report, which had been clearly requested.  However, an internal review has subsequently been undertaken and the report was provided this morning, but without the identity of the author.

My question is: who wrote the report?  Was it Kevin, yourself, a combination of the two or some other party?

Many thanks and congratulations on getting the manager’s job at Wirral.  Of course it goes without saying, I hope to be in touch again in the future,

Best regards,

Paul Cardin

From: Graves, Paul G.
Sent: 22 January 2014 13:14
To: Paul C
Subject: RE: Lighting Report

Good afternoon Paul

Thank you for your email, although the congratulations are pre-empted; unfortunately I am not the lighting manager, as that position has been made redundant.

I have not had any involvement in the reply you received or in the production of any associated reports. I will however look in to the information you have been given and attempt to have the answer passed to you ASAP.

Kind regards

Paul

From: Paul C
Sent: 22 January 2014 13:28
To: ‘Graves, Paul G.’
Subject: RE: Lighting Report

Thanks Paul,

Great to have such a rapid response.  I look forward to hearing from you regarding the identity of the report’s author,

Best wishes,

Paul

More to follow, hopefully in the next few days…

Here’s an earlier post about these issues which I wrote last year.

And another…

UPDATE   30th January 2014

As usual, nothing heard, and I had to go chasing…

From: Paul C
Sent: 30 January 2014 13:55
To: ‘Graves, Paul G.’
Subject: RE: Lighting Report

Hello Paul,

Do you have any news?

Many thanks,

Paul Cardin

There was no response from Paul Graves, but it appears he’d passed my query onto Jane Corrin, watchful keeper of the council’s information and data.  Now, I thought this was a pretty reasonable, straightforward request.  You’d think so, especially given that these kind of reports are written up and submitted for scrutiny by councillors quite a lot, with author names on open display.  It’s the daily business of such organisations isn’t it?  Public oversight demands openness and transparency.

Here’s Jane Corrin’s response, received today – (remember, all I asked for was the name of the public servant who wrote this Street Lighting Report)… i.e. who appeared to be implying that it was acceptable to switch off 100s of street lights in the interests of saving a few quid? (my bold)

From: Corrin, Jane [mailto:janecorrin@wirral.gov.uk]
Sent: 30 January 2014 16:08
To: Paul C
Cc: Graves, Paul G.; InfoMgr, FinDMT
Subject: FOI 736116 – Paul Cardin – Street Lighting Switch Off – Was any consultation undertaken?

Good Afternoon

Thank you for your email below, which has been passed to me to respond to.  Please refer to the answer provided in Council’s Internal Review of 22nd January 2014 which provided the Briefing Note.

In respect of your further query:

“My question is: who wrote the report?  Was it Kevin, yourself, a combination of the two or some other party?”

The Council is refusing to disclose the name/s of the author/s as they consider the information to be exempt information under Section 40 (2) of the Freedom of Information Act 2000.  To clarify, you are asking for information which includes information about an individual/s, i.e. personal data, in respect of which you are not the data subject.

The disclosure of the requested information would contravene the first data protection principle, that personal data shall be processed fairly and lawfully, and shall not be processed unless at least one of the conditions in Schedule 2 of the Data Protection Act 1998 is met.   The Council does not consider that any of the conditions in Schedule 2 would be met.  This is an absolute exemption and not subject to the public interest test.

Definition of Schedule 2 – SCHEDULE 2E+W+S+N.I. Conditions relevant for purposes of the first principle: processing of any personal data

1          The data subject has given his consent to the processing.E+W+S+N.I.

2          The processing is necessary—E+W+S+N.I.

(a) for the performance of a contract to which the data subject is a party, or

(b) for the taking of steps at the request of the data subject with a view to entering into a contract.

3          The processing is necessary for compliance with any legal obligation to which the data controller is subject, other than an obligation imposed by contract.E+W+S+N.I.

4          The processing is necessary in order to protect the vital interests of the data subject.E+W+S+N.I.

5          The processing is necessary—E+W+S+N.I.

(a) for the administration of justice,

Your request is therefore refused for the reasons outlined above; the Council has relied on the exemption contained within Section 40 (2).

You have the right to request an internal review, which should be addressed to the Information and Central Services Manager, Wallasey Town Hall, Brighton Street, Wallasey, CH44 8ED,  email, JaneCorrin@wirral.gov.uk. You also have the right to complain to the Information Commissioner, whose address is the Information Commissioner’s Office,

Wycliffe House,
Water Lane,
Wilmslow,
Cheshire SK9 5AF

www.ico.gov.uk

Kind Regards

Jane Corrin
Information and Central Services Manager
Wirral Council
Website: www.wirral.gov.uk

So, despite author names being routinely included in thousands upon thousands of council documents, freely available on the Wirral Council website, it appears when an author’s name is not included, and it is has to be requested via Freedom of Information channels, the default response seems to be to withhold it, because the name is ‘personal data’ and the privacy of the writer could somehow be harmed.

So, all the other hundreds of individual officer names that have been included publicly on reports in the past have either breached the privacy of the authors or…

…someone’s talking rubbish, or someone’s got something to hide.

I think I know the answer.  But once again, the shutters have been slammed down, and it appears to be inconsistency at best or rampant, paranoid, hamfisted secrecy at worst.

I’ve asked for an internal review:

From: Paul C
Sent: 30 January 2014 21:19
To: ‘Corrin, Jane’
Cc: ‘Graves, Paul G.’; ‘InfoMgr, FinDMT’
Subject: RE: FOI 736116 – Paul Cardin – Street Lighting Switch Off – Was any consultation undertaken?

Dear Ms Corrin,

For an “improved” council, one which has been through two ICO monitoring periods, whose name has been mentioned by the Information Commissioner himself before a parliamentary committee as a “council I’d like to sort out”, and whose CEO has been forced to sign an undertaking to improve, I’m afraid your response to this FoI request is deeply perplexing, and indicates lessons are not being learned.

Public servants, whether retired or still in post, cannot choose to become anonymous when writing and publishing reports – particularly reports on controversial topics such as switching off 100s of street lights, which are submitted to elected members for scrutiny.  The action of switching off street lights in order to save money, is potentially endangering the public through heightened risk of crime / personal injury as drivers, passengers or pedestrians.

Neither can a colleague make such an ill-founded decision to withhold names on the report writer(s)’ behalf without serious questions being raised.

The public interest in knowing who wrote this crucial report is compelling, and outweighs the public interest in withholding the author(s)’ name.

Please ask a senior officer to carry out an internal review,

Best regards,

Paul Cardin

Apparently their exemption is a so-called “absolute” one, so I can’t plead the public interest, but no matter, this one’s going all the way.

UPDATE   3rd February 2014

A response is in to the internal review request:

Internal Review Request

CRM No 736116
Requestor Name Paul Cardin
Subject Matter Author of Street lighting note
Request Details ”My question is: who wrote the report? Was it Kevin, yourself, a combination of the two or some other party?Sent by email to Mr P Graves and referred to Information management team
Response Good AfternoonThank you for your email below, which has been passed to me to respond to.  Please refer to the answer provided in Council’s Internal Review of 22nd January 2014 which provided the Briefing Note.In respect of your further query:“My question is: who wrote the report?  Was it Kevin, yourself, a combination of the two or some other party?”The Council is refusing to disclose the name/s of the author/s as they consider the information to be exempt information under Section 40 (2) of the Freedom of Information Act 2000. To clarify, you are asking for information which includes information about an individual/s, i.e. personal data, in respect of which you are not the data subject.The disclosure of the requested information would contravene the first data protection principle, that personal data shall be processed fairly and lawfully, and shall not be processed unless at least one of the conditions in Schedule 2 of the Data Protection Act 1998 is met. The Council does not consider that any of the conditions in Schedule 2 would be met.  This is an absolute exemption and not subject to the public interest test.Definition of Schedule 2 – SCHEDULE 2 Conditions relevant for purposes of the first principle: processing of any personal data

1          The data subject has given his consent to the processing.

2          The processing is necessary—

(a) for the performance of a contract to which the data subject is a party, or

(b) for the taking of steps at the request of the data subject with a view to entering into a contract.

3          The processing is necessary for compliance with any legal obligation to which the data controller is subject, other than an obligation imposed by contract.

4          The processing is necessary in order to protect the vital interests of the data subject.

5          The processing is necessary—

(a) for the administration of justice,

Your request is therefore refused for the reasons outlined above; the Council has relied on the exemption contained within Section 40 (2).

You have the right to request an internal review, which should be addressed to the Information and Central Services Manager, Wallasey Town Hall, Brighton Street, Wallasey, CH44 8ED,  email, JaneCorrin@wirral.gov.uk. You also have the right to complain to the Information Commissioner, whose address is the
 
Information Commissioner’s Office,
Wycliffe House,
Water Lane,
Wilmslow,
Cheshire SK9 5AF
www.ico.gov.uk
Kind Regards
Jane Corrin
Information and Central Services Manager
Wirral Council
Further correspondence & request for internal review Dear Ms Corrin,For an “improved” council, one which has been through two ICO monitoring periods, whose name has been mentioned by the Information Commissioner himself before a parliamentary committee as a “council I’d like to sort out”, and whose CEO has been forced to sign an undertaking to improve, I’m afraid your response to this FoI request is deeply perplexing, and indicates lessons are not being learned.Public servants, whether retired or still in post, cannot choose to become anonymous when writing and publishing reports – particularly reports on controversial topics such as switching off 100s of street lights, which are submitted to elected members for scrutiny.  The action of switching off street lights in order to save money, is potentially endangering the public through heightened risk of crime / personal injury as drivers, passengers or pedestrians.Neither can a colleague make such an ill-founded decision to withhold names on the report writer(s)’ behalf without serious questions being raised.The public interest in knowing who wrote this crucial report is compelling, and outweighs the public interest in withholding the author(s)’ name.Please ask a senior officer to carry out an internal review,Best regards,

Paul Cardin

Internal Review Response 3rd February 2014 The internal review has now been conducted by Anne Quirk.As explained to you in response to your request, the information you ask for is personal data. The Council applied and relied on s.40 of the FOIA.The Council can place reliance on this section where the information requested is personal data of a third party and processing the data – in this case by sharing it with you and the general public  would be a breach of the Data Protection Act 1998 principles that relates to personal data and how that should be handled.Under the Data Protection Act 1998 (“DPA”) the Council have to comply with data protection principles. These include the first principle which is set out in Schedule 1 of the DPA that the Council must only process data where it is fair and lawful to do so and where one of the conditions set out in Schedule 2 are satisfied.The reviewing officer has taken into account the  guidance of the Information Commissioner “Requests for personal data about public sector employees” and are not satisfied that processing of such data as you have requested would be fair in that context. Even if it was considered to be “fair” the Council do not consider that any of the conditions set out in Schedule 2 of the Data Protection Act 1998 are met Data Protection principles apply. The Council has had particular regard to principle 6 of schedule 2 and whether disclosure is necessary to meet your legitimate interests. The Council does not consider disclosure necessary.This response is a refusal notice under s.17 of the FOIA If you wish to complain further about the handling of your request then you have the right to  refer the matter to theInformation Commissioner’s Office
Wycliffe House
Water Lane
Wilmslow
Cheshire
SK9 5AF

9th February 2014

Appealed to the ICO.

 




About Wirral In It Together

Campaigner for open government. Wants senior public servants to be honest and courageous. It IS possible!
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