Unhelpful ICO response, when a Council gave false information

pants on fire

25th March 2014

A while ago, in response to a request from a third party, Wirral Council declared a false total for its number of compromise agreements.

The council are standing by the false declaration. The ICO, many months on, are now using a technicality within the Act to support the data controller, backing them up, despite the council’s obvious dishonesty – which is on display for all to see.

It looks like the “team” at Wirral Legal Services wanted us to believe that a ‘basic’ compromise agreement is somehow different to a normal compromise agreement.  In fact so different…  that a total of 834 of them, costing £62,550 was not worth counting and declaring in response to a clear FoI request.

Wirral Globe article from November 2013

Here’s the ICO letter, attached to an email received on 14th March 2014:

Case Reference Number FS50522404

Dear Mr Cardin

Further to our letter of 9 September 2013, I write to inform you that your case has been referred to me for investigation.

On 11 August 2013 you requested the following:

“Please check out the following link for details of 834 redundancies signed off by Wirral Council between January 2011 and February 2013, at the following link: https://wirralinittogether.wordpress.com/… The council appear to have NOT included and totalled the agreements which were attached to the 834 redundancies and have declared a false and much reduced total of 11 compromise agreements (in the 3rd column). Please confirm that there were 834 compromise agreements attached to the 834 redundancies stated – as mentioned in the text of the link. Please also confirm that the true total of compromise agreements in this time period was 11 + 834 = 845 compromise agreements (in the 3rd column).”

However, I have considered your complaint in detail and have identified that your request of the 11 August 2013 is not a valid request for information under the terms of the Freedom of Information Act (“the FOIA”).

Section 8(1)(b) of the FOIA specifies that a request must describe the information that is requested. However in this instance the request does not describe information, but asks the council to provide a confirmation in response to a statement (in the first part), and then to alter the form of information that it has previously provided in response to a FOIA request (in the second part). As you will be aware, the FOIA does not require a public authority to create new information in order to respond to a request.

You can access the Commissioner’s guidance for requesters at:

http://ico.org.uk/for_the_public/official_information

The Commissioner can only issue a decision under section 50(1) of the FOIA when a request is valid. Whilst it is clear that you are unhappy with the form in which the previously requested information is held and has been subsequently provided, we are unable to progress this complaint any further. As a result, this case will now be closed.

I hope the above information is helpful.

Yours sincerely

Daniel Perry

Case Officer – Complaints Resolution Direct Dial: 01625 545 214

 ↓

So Daniel, having failed to state whether I had any recourse to appeal his decision, was asking me, “Is it helpful for me to close your case?”

Er, no.  This is far from helpful.  In fact, if he’d flicked to Section 77 of the Act, he’d have found the following:

any person to whom this subsection applies is guilty of an offence if he alters, defaces, blocks, erases, destroys or conceals any record held by the public authority, with the intention of preventing the disclosure by that authority of all, or any part, of the information to the communication of which the applicant would have been entitled.

So, having just spoken to Daniel and discovered that I can appeal his decision, I’ll be writing to him today and appealing on the grounds that some bright spark at the council has concealed a true total.

Why is this so painful?

Why is this so difficult?

Why can’t these public servants at least put a shift in serving us, rather than each other?

I imagine Daniel’s boss might come back and say pedantically, “Well, if the data controller didn’t have a total figure, they couldn’t provide it could they?”

This is another one that could go all the way to First Tier Tribunal.  What a waste of public money eh, council tax payers?

Here’s my email to Daniel Perry, sent just now:

 

From: Paul C

Sent: 25 March 2014 14:42

To: ‘casework@ico.org.uk’

Subject: RE: ICO Case FS50522404[Ref. FS50522404]

Dear Mr Perry,

Further to our phone conversation this afternoon.

It’s my position that the council have breached Section 77 of the FOIA.  Namely, they have concealed information by declaring a false total of 11.  I have endeavoured to help them declare a correct total but they have compounded their dishonesty by not responding correctly.  This adds to the seriousness of the original breach.

Please respond as quickly as possible in order that the council can be advised of the error of their ways and brought up to speed.  Despite many opportunities to improve, granted either by yourselves or by engaged members of the public, this is proving to be a hard slog.  I am principally interested in two things:

  • Preventing abuse
  • Conserving public funds

The sooner Wirral Council can be made to realise that they cannot play fast and loose with public information, the sooner we can become a more civilised society with mature and responsive public authorities.  Please play your part in helping me to achieve this,

Many thanks,

Paul Cardin

26th March 2014

From: Paul C
Sent: 26 March 2014 09:24
To: ‘Burgess, Graham’
Cc: ‘Tour, Surjit’; ‘Corrin, Jane’
Subject: Request

Dear Mr Burgess,

In light of 2 x ICO monitoring periods, followed by an ICO undertaking / public statement request, and being mentioned in Parliament by the Information Commissioner as a place he’d like to “send in a team to sort out”, I’d be extremely grateful if you could bang the necessary heads together on the following shambles…

https://wirralinittogether.wordpress.com/2014/03/25/unhelpful-ico-response-when-a-council-was-found-to-have-given-false-information/

best regards,

Paul Cardin

 

 

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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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2 Responses to Unhelpful ICO response, when a Council gave false information

  1. Jonathan Hardaker says:

    talk about getting blood out of a stone isn’t in it ,they would not know the truth if it jumped up & bit them in the a++e. They will lie & cheat in an effort to give their version of the truth only to protect themselves. never mind the people who pay their wages the poor ratepayer.
    I sincerely hope you eventually get to the bottom of this matter in finding the true story from the town hall & why they spent over £60k on outside legal sources when they have 16 people in their legal team as well as the famous or some say infamous Surjit Tour, good look Paul for if it was not for people like you, John Brace & Wirralleaks they wood get away with murder

  2. Wirral In It Together says:

    Watch this space Jon for updates. Thanks for your comments and for reading these posts. I hope one day, these write ups of Wirral’s repeated crookedness will become a useful resource, not just locally but across the country / world. Wirral could one day be seen as a kind of abusive trailblazer, descending deep into the gutter, into areas where other councils fear to tread. They can be a future paragon of how NOT to do things. A deterrent.

    You could say in a strange sort of way, they could provide a valuable service… just a shame that we have to suffer locally and while they dive into the trough and enrich themselves, we get dragged along and treated with contempt.

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