Sunday, 3 October 2010

Moving the Goalposts

I was surprised to get another response from NCC to my FoIA request on delegated powers to officers. Surprised because it's with the Information Commissioner who I'm pretty sure is about to issue a formal decision notice.

Obviously they're not giving me the info because it's plain to see that they haven't got it. It turns out to be a fairly shameless attempt at moving the goalposts and I'm wondering if I might have unwisely helped them along with that.

Cast you mind back to the post I wrote when I had received the result of the internal review. This confirmed that the 1998 list was all that they had and so wouldn't be sending anything else, as such they were refusing my request on the basis that they don't hold the information. At the time I said -

"I did wonder if they would claim that the information existed but that it could only be provided at disproportionate cost...It's a useful way for councils to dodge providing information and usually involves claiming that a search of eleventy thousand documents will be required (in reality usually a few hundred) and that each document will take 45 minutes to examine (in reality about 5...)"

Cut to Friday and here's what they've now come up with -

"Unfortunately again without significant time and resource Democratic Services are unable to identify a complete list of delegations made by committees, boards etc since 1998, as all of the minutes from those meetings would require reviewing to see if they contained information about the power to delegate and so sadly, Democratic services are unable to supply this information in response to your request at this time.

Democratic Services have estimated that there are in excess of 2000 meetings between 1998 and 2010 and that this would equate to approximately 160 hours work...

However, Should you still require to receive this information prior to next year, the Council would issue you with a fees notice in order to retrieve this"

They then go on to quote me £4075 to provide the info. I think I'll keep my gob shut next time. Maybe they're hoping this will persuade the ICO not to make an adverse decision?

Still, the point is reinforced. NCC simply has no idea who has been delegated powers to act on behalf the council and in what circumstances. This is unacceptable. I think I can reasonably claim the credit for ensuring that they put this right.

Oh, and if you think this is just about people being allowed to order their own paperclips have a look at the delegated decisions section* on the NCC website. On the first page there's one for £4m and several for hundreds of £k. I think that's something I'd like to keep track of.

*For some reason they appear to be listing these in reverse order. More alarmingly they seem to have stopped listing them at all since July.

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