Monday, 7 November 2011

Not Just Me Then...

Here we have another decision by the Information Commissioner Nottingham City Council completely fails to provide a response to a FoIA request and for once it isn't one of mine!

This case concerns a request for a service agreement between NCC and a student housing organisation. That's it, nothing more. To provide it, all NCC needs to do is find its lowest paid clerk, ask him/her to go to the relevant filing cabinet, scan or photocopy the agreement requested and post it off. I reckon that's half an hour's work at best.

Instead the request, made on 16 April 2011, had still not merited a response by the time of the decision notice which was issued on 6 October.

The Commissioner had this to say by way of comment -

"The Commissioner considers that this complaint demonstrates that there are a number of deficiencies in the procedures carried out by the council which were previously evidenced in Practice Recommendations issued by the Commissioner on 23 October 2007. The council is currently being monitored for its compliance with the Act."

Do you think this is the sort of stellar practice NCC refers to in its action plan as follows?

"To market NCC as best practice model and take on others workload for fee."

Good luck with that.

I have no idea what would be in this service agreement nor why the requester wants it. However, my guess is that the delay is caused NCC's obsessive secrecy because they seem to assume that any document requested under FoI MUST have something that they'd prefer to be kept quiet.

So they spend about six months going through the documents with a fine tooth comb to check. Then of course they spend another six months trying to think up an argument for keeping it secret. It takes so long because it gets passed to the legal dept for this task and they are utterly shit. Imagine a well stocked graveyard for crap lawyers who can't get a job anywhere else (including the shop floor at Asda) and you'll get the idea.

If they can't think of anything it goes off to the Communications team who '...assess the impact of disclosure from a reputational standpoint...' What they do if the disclosure looks like it will have what I'm sure they'd refer to as a 'negative reputational impactisation' I don't know. But whatever it is would probably take another six months or so if they're quick.

No doubt along the way various officers will get visits from JoCo shouting and screaming and generally meddling, because that's apparently what he does.

Meanwhile the Information Commissioner has died of old age and the rest of us have lost the will to live.

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