Thursday, 9 September 2010

Chocolate Teapots, Pastry Crash Helmets, Meringue Lifejackets...

More on the issue of whether NCC has any idea at all as to who is in possession of the many powers delegated to officers by the council and its committees.

It has now been finally confirmed that they don't. They have not kept any records of any powers delegated to officers since 1998.

We pretty much knew this from NCC's response to my FoIA request for a list of officers with delegated powers but I took the matter to the Information Commissioner to make sure.

The ICO has emailed me to propose an informal resolution in the following terms -

"I have spoken to the council and explained the nature of your complaint. I am satisfied that it now understands what it may have got wrong – it appears to have misinterpreted your request as a request for a copy of the list it already holds, instead of as a request for a list of the current posts and committees/meetings where the delegation was granted. As those details will be recorded in the council’s records (but not necessarily compiled into a current list) it seems unlikely that the information will not be held by it, nor is there any apparent reason why the public authority would seek to withhold the information.

Where possible the Information Commissioner prefers complaints to be resolved by informal means. If this does not prove to be possible, he will usually issue a Decision Notice to you and the public authority once an investigation has been completed. This will inform you of his decision and the reasons for it.

Where the Commissioner decides that a request has not been handled properly he may specify what steps he believes are necessary to remedy the situation. This can include requiring a public authority to release information which has previously been withheld. A copy of the Decision Notice will be placed on our website (with your details omitted). If you disagree with the decision that has been reached you have a legal right of appeal to the Information Tribunal.

In this case, the council has indicated to me that it would prefer to resolve your complaint informally, by compiling and disclosing an up-to-date list of ‘A’ delegated powers, etc, from the information in its records. 

As the Commissioner prefers to resolve such matters informally where possible, this would also be his preferred course of action. Kindly indicate whether you would consider this a satisfactory outcome to your complaint.

It is clear that, by failing to disclose the information held within the statutory timescale, the council will have breached section 10 of the Act even if it discloses the information in full shortly. The preferred approach to such matters would be to refer any such procedural breaches to the Commissioner’s Enforcement team" 

So, as you can see, they now plan to catch up with 12 years of decisions to delegate powers to officers which really should have been centrally updated on an ongoing basis. Madness.

I've written back to the ICO saying that I want a formal decision notice which won't make me popular but I think there is a strong public interest in NCC being held to account, not so much for not providing me with the info but not keeping track of such important matters at all. I also don't like the fact that Information Governance have been guilty of misleading the Overview and Scrutiny Committee by saying that they haven't had a formal decision notice made against them when formal decisions are far from the full story as the ICO now has a policy to informally resolve cases as much as possible.

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