Just how open is the Olympic Delivery Authority?
The Olympic Delivery Authority states on its website that it is: “committed to its aim of fostering a culture of openness, transparency and accountability. The ODA is also committed to complying with its obligations under the Act.”
A pretty sentiment but is this true in practice? I will let you be the judge. Here is my experience of trying to get information out of the ODA.
6 February 2007 – I telephoned the Department for Culture Media and Sport in the UK and spoke to Information Manager Joanne Othick to ask where I should direct FOI requests about the Olympics. She told me to send them to the DCMS and if they couldn’t answer the question they could refer the request to the relevant body.
16 April 2007 – Made FOI request asking for register of conflicts of interest and register of gifts and hospitality. In the letter I asked for written acknowledgement. I specified that I would like to receive the register in electronic format if possible.
24 May 2007 – No word from the DCMS so we called the FOI dept and left a message asking on the progress.
30 May – Information Officer Nick Casey emailed stating he’d been ‘out of the office’ and would look into our requests. The DCMS has already missed the statutory deadline for responding to FOIA requests.
5 June – Letter from Andrew Lean, director Government Olympic Executive refusing in full our request for the register of conflicts of interest claiming that to do so would violate the privacy of the public officials.
“We consider therefore information contained in the conflicts register to be exempt from disclosure because the information is personal data; and considering the circumstances in which the information was obtained, the likely expectations of the data subjects regarding the disclosure of the information, the effect which disclosure would have on the data subjects and the limited public interest in disclosure of the information, it would be unfair to the persons and therefore in breach of the first Data Protection Principle to disclose the information to you.”
He then said that the DCMS did not hold the register of gifts and hospitality: it was held by the Olympic Delivery Authority and that we must re-apply to them. They would not transfer the request for us.
26 June 2007 – We re-applied to the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) for both registers.
12 July 2007 – We received from the ODA a letter refusing to release the register of interests. In relation to the gifts & hospitality register they stated that they only held the records in paper format but that we could come and look at the register by appointment. They gave us a switchboard number and told us to contact the ‘information officer’ (no name provided). I should mention that at this point all correspondence from the ODA was anonymised and all letters signed:
Olympic Delivery Authority
We phoned the switchboard on a number of occasions and the receptionist didn’t have a clue who we were talking about. We were put through to various answering machines none of which ever resulted in anyone calling us back. Eventually we emailed the generic information email and finally received a reply from a woman called Paula Giordano. We arranged to look at the register on 13 September and Ms Giordano booked a meeting room from 10-11am. On the final telephone call with Ms Giordano while we were getting directions to the building, she said “You do know this is a read-only appointment.” We asked what this meant. “You can take notes but you can’t make any copies.”
13 Sept 2007 – We arrived at 1 Churchill Place in Canary Wharf to inspect the register. We were shown to the reception desk where we were given ID badges and then had our bags searched. We tried taking a photograph of this and a security guard came over to us and told us no photographs were allowed. We went up to the 23rd floor. The receptionist said we had to go back down to the 21st floor which we did.
We met Paula Giordano and she took us to a small meeting room. Another woman brought in two ringbinders each about 3 inches thick filled with papers. These were the registers for two years. I estimate they contained 1,500-3000 documents. We were told nothing about how the documents were organized. We just had to figure it out ourselves which took about 15 minutes. By now it was about 10.45am (taking into account the security checks and sending us to the wrong floor). We were not allowed to make any photocopies but I’d brought along a digital camera to photograph some of the records to ensure I had an accurate copy. However, we were told we could not use the camera. We realised that there was no way we could look through AND transcribe all these records in one hour and it was disingenuous for the ODA to book a room for one hour knowing how many records there were. We complained strongly and they finally relented and gave us an extra half an hour. In that time we copied down approximately 116 records. We also noticed that the gifts and hospitality declarations for Chief Executive David Higgens was a printout from an Excel spreadsheet, so the ODA lied to us when stating none of the information was available in electronic format.
At 11.30 we had to leave.
Since that time we have been endeavoring to make another appointment with the ODA to view the remainder of the records and obtain an electronic copy of Mr Higgens’ spreadsheet. These requests have been ignored and now outright refused.
12 October 2007 – We received a letter from the ODA stating:
“We believe that we have given you a fair opportunity to attend and view the register and make notes of the information contained therin. In the interests of openness and transparency, we have reconsidered your request and are prepared to release the forms contained in the Register for a period of 12 months…We will redact, however, the names of any staff that have been offered gifts or hospitality in the Register.”
Obviously without the names, the Register is meaningless in terms of holding public officials to account. We are appealing this decision but it would be helpful if those of you outraged by this behaviour could write to your MP demanding the register be published in full.