reported yesterday the only questions allowed at council meetings are on
policies, nothing else, that haven’t been mentioned before and from residents who have not been
blacklisted. More and more enquiries will have to take the FOI route (Freedom of
Information requests), however it cannot be long before Bexley council looks for
disreputable ways of restricting those too.
Councillor Campbell, supported by councillor Betts, has already proposed publishing the names and addresses of those requesting information and councillor Philip Read has resorted to Twitter to insult those who make FOI requests and called them ‘prats’ within their hearing. His point about information being available on the council’s website might have some validity if things were easier to find. When I visited the Contact Centre to present my Subject Access Request the staff there failed to find it on the website and because of that didn’t know what to do with it. They rang the office dealing with FOIs but got no help there either.
If you follow developments closely you will know I have been listing FOIs that I know of and it is already suggesting that too many FOI requests are answered outside the statutory time limit. I rang the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) this morning to ask if he would accept the late answers as formal complaints and the answer was in the affirmative. I shall recommend complaining when they are ten days overdue; I don’t want to be accused of being unfair.
The council on the other hand plays fast and loose with the law. The Information Commissioner makes it very clear that provision must be made to cover the annual leave etc. of the individual(s) coordinating FOI requests. A council source assures me that Bexley doesn’t do that. The ICO also says that the 20 day countdown must start from the day after the request first hits any (council) inbox. Only today I have been shown evidence that Bexley doesn’t work like that.
When I was in the Contact Centre it was displaying large posters advising visitors that enquiries made electronically via their web form would be answered within two days and emails and letters within five. The last message I know of sent via web form went in last Friday and had not been acknowledged by yesterday lunchtime when I last checked on progress. Emails and letters fare no better. I have given up sending them - except that Tony Hughes who looks after certain maintenance issues in my neck of the woods can be relied on to respond within minutes. Apart from that the last time I sent in a detailed complaint the reply after much prompting was “your comments have been noted”. I know for a fact nothing was done about it. Notomob have had emails to councillor Craske, the Parking Manager and Will Tuckley the CEO ignored for a couple of weeks or so. No response apart from Craske’s nonsensical “Your allegations against me are 100% false”. The email contained no allegations.
BBC London News picked up last Monday’s report on dustbin thefts and have been trying to contact Bexley council about it. I wish them the best of luck. Everywhere you look we see Bexley council not wanting to answer questions, everywhere that is except in today’s News Shopper where the Star Letter is headed “Our councillors do listen to the public”. Ive never heard anyone say that before. Avoiding meetings because people attended when none were expected is more their style. A letter praising Bexley council and Teresa O’Neill to such a degree is likely to be a specially commissioned ‘plant’. It’s a trick that Bexley council has pulled before and there’s no reason to suppose they wouldn’t pull it again in newspaper columns, especially as their own attempts at self-justification backfired so spectacularly in The Bexleyheath Chronicle.