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Bonkers Blog June 2011

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12 June (Part 2) - Freedom of Information (FOI)

“Bexley is aware of the importance of responding to FOI requests within the statutory timescale of 20 working days.” Good, then why is it that the tricky ones are kicked into the long grass?

Two FOIs about the Harassment Warning Bexley council asked the police to issue to me are two months old today. My complaint to the Police Professional Standards Directorate has been ignored, DI Keith Marshall of Bexleyheath CID has made no attempt to follow up his letter. Everyone appears to be desperate to cover their tracks.

Another FOI that stands out like a sore thumb on the FOI list is about pay increases for former Chief Executive Nick Johnson. If answered honestly this might reveal an enormous pension fiddle that has been rumoured by people who should know. So Bexley council doesn’t answer for fear of incriminating itself. I think these FOIs, which aren’t mine, should be reported to the Information Commissioner (ICO). Maybe I should start asking questions myself, I wouldn’t be so tolerant of deliberate delays.

One that has gone to the ICO concerns the destruction of evidence requested under FOI. “If staff conceal, alter or deliberately destroy information, they themselves may be liable to be prosecuted, for which the penalty can be a fine in the Magistrates Court of up to £5,000.” Staff knew absolutely that there was an FOI request for a copy of councillor Alex Sawyer’s Consent to Nomination form and they destroyed it and the details cannot now be used in an ongoing investigation into his affairs. So that looks like two criminal acts by councillors or staff in the space of a week.

Sometimes FOIs reveal interesting facts. An enquiry about the Ethnic Minority Achievement Grant which central government gave to Bexley council for distribution to schools showed that a large chunk of it was not distributed. It is supposed to be for “minority ethnic groups who are at risk of underachieving and to help meet the particular needs of bilingual pupils” but of the £674,000 the government handed out only £524,000 found its way to schools. Distributing authorities are allowed to keep a maximum (from grants not exceeding £1m.) of £150,00 for themselves. Bexley chose to retain the maximum. Does that make them the greediest, the least efficient, or the least trusting of boroughs? For every £3.50 handed out to schools, Bexley council sat on one pound.

The Subject Access Request to Bexley council seeking information about my Harassment Warning is still unanswered. I have sought assurances that it will include the period that the obscene blog existed and that all correspondence by senior staff, the IT department and councillors on that matter will be revealed. One way or another we will find out who it is at Bexley council that thinks they are above the law and who may have shielded them. If answers aren’t forthcoming soon I won’t hesitate to contact the Information Commissioner’s office.


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