Posts Tagged ‘request’

New Secret Squirrel items

Sunday, October 30th, 2005

I’ve added two new additions to the Secret Squirrel pages:

1. A request to the Department for Constitutional Affairs for their Statute Law Database.

2. A request to the House of Commons asking for the number of attacks on MPs’ staff. This followed up my earlier request for the names of MPs’ staff. One of the excuses given for not releasing the names of MPs’ staff was that such disclosure ‘may render them, and the Members for whom they work, vulnerable to attack.’ The Commons FOI officer also stated that the Register of Interests covering Members’ secretaries and research assistants has been withdrawn from the Parliamentary website due to ‘security concerns’.

One would hope that such drastic and undemocratic measures are underpinned with some kind of empirical evidence. Apparently not, as the answer to my request shows the number of attacks recorded on MPs staff is precisely ZERO.

http://www.yrtk.org/secret-squirrel/hc_attacks

British Library Wi-Fi Access

Monday, April 18th, 2005

The British Library refused to show me the contract under which they provide wireless internet services, until I filed a Freedom of Information request. The story was covered by Information World Review.

There is considerable community interest in providing free internet access using cheap wireless technology – groups such as consume.net and Wireless London are active in building these networks, as are forward-thinking local authorities such as Westminster’s Wireless City project. All these “trailblazers” emphasise the extremely low cost of establishing wireless networks. In other major cities, libraries see free internet access as part of their public service remit – the New York Public Library being a prime example.

So why is the British Library, a supposedly free public service financed by public money, charging an outrageous £4.50 an hour for wireless access to their electronic resources?

New sections added

Wednesday, April 13th, 2005

The YRTK website has been updated to include a newly revised version of Secret Squirrel. It lists my requests by public authority. The list is far from complete – there are many requests that I have yet to upload – but in time everything will be on here. The log lists:

My original FOI/EIR requests
Response from public authority
My request for internal review if request denied
Decision notice from public authority
Appeal to the Information Commissioner
Any other correspondence

In addition, I have added a new section under the ‘General’ category – the Request Diary. Here, you will find more detail about my dealings with various public authorities.

FOI request: Minutes from BBC Governor’s meetings post-Hutton

Thursday, April 7th, 2005

I made a request to the BBC for all minutes from meetings held by the BBC Board of Governors during the time period January 16-31, 2004. This was the period after the Hutton report when the chairman, Gavin Davis and Greg Dyke, the director general of the BBC, resigned.

Read the full BBC response here:
http://www.yrtk.org/wp-content/20050406_bbc_minutes.pdf (46k)

The BBC states there were two meetings during this time: one on 28 January and another informal meeting on the 29th. The second meeting was not minuted. The BBC cites section 36 (prejudicial to the effective conduct of public affairs) as reason to withhold the minutes from the 28th.

Section 36 is the ‘catch-all’ exemption that authorities pick when they are desperate. During the House of Lords debate on the FOIA, Lord Mackay summed up the exemption’s sole purpose: ‘Obviously the draftsman decided, just in case something escaped and there is one last fish in the sea, let us get it with a grenade; and this is the grenade.’

Section 36 is a qualified exemption, meaning information can only be withheld when it is in the public interest. The default position in such a balance is for openness, so a public authority must show how secrecy overrides the need for transparency. The BBC makes the claim that if the minutes were made public it would hinder discussion in future meetings and possibly hinder minute taking.

The belief that open meetings hinder vigorous debate is bogus. Secrecy in no way promotes good decision-making, in fact just the opposite. In secrecy, people can make decisions based on nothing more than personal prejudice, unsubstantiated opinion, favouritism or political gain. Good decision-making, like good policy making, must be based on reason that can stand up to public scrutiny. If it cannot, then the decision or policy was rubbish to start with.

The BBC was dealt a major blow by the Governors’ decision to accept offers of resignation from Davis and Dyke. Some would say, the BBC was irreparably weakened by the loss of its top two champions. Would we be seeing such massive cuts in staff if these two were still in power? The governors actions set the ball rolling on what could be the destruction of the BBC. It is imperative that the public know why the governors acted as they did. If the governors are so afraid to stand up and explain their actions to the public, one can only assume they know something we don’t — that their reasoning will not stand up to public scrutiny.

I will be making this argument in my appeal to the Information Commissioner.

What of the lack of minutes from the meeting on the 29th? Firstly, it is wrong to blame FOI for the culture of not taking minutes during controversial meetings. I was watching an old ‘Yes Minister’ episode from the early 1980s, and Sir Humphrey was expounding on this very topic. The problem with such opaque decision-making is that the public have no way of knowing how decisions came about. Minutes are the audit trail that show why decisions are made. Without minutes, a public authority lays itself open to accusations of dodgy dealing and corruption.

Names of MPs staff: Internal Review Results

Wednesday, March 30th, 2005

I received a decision notice (below) from the Commons last Thursday (hard copy arrived today) in relation to my FOIA request for the names and salary details of MPs staff. You can read my original letter to the House of Commons sent 2 January 2005. I made the request in order to abolish the needless secrecy surrounding who works for our public representatives. Despite being paid for with public money, the public actually has no way of knowing who is working for their MP.

The investigative reporter Michael Crick estimates that around 100 MPs employ family members, and while most may work very hard, some may do nothing at all. An MP’s signature is all that is needed to draw money for staff from the public purse, yet the public are not allowed to know who these people are.

I am appealing this unacceptable attempt to avoid public accountability and will be sending my complaint to the Information Commissioner this week.

What is most bizarre about the Commons’ answer is their argument that ‘Members of Parliament in their individual capacities are not public authorities subject to the 2000 Act’ .

What a ridiculous notion. Their claim that MPs staff are not public employees also holds no water as these are people paid entirely from the public purse.

The Data Protection Act states that information can be disclosed if it is fair. It is not unfair that a person working for a public representative and paid for with public funds should be accountable to the public. To hide behind the DPA in this way makes a mockery of both the DPA and the freedom of information law.

It’s also interesting to note that the Department for Constitutional Affairs (the department in charge of implementing FOI across central government) has issued guidance claiming that the FOIA does not give public authorities the power to disclose information about named individuals whether public employees or not. See in particular the sections 4.2.9 and 4.2.13. This goes against government commitments to make public the names of secondees, given in response to a successful campaign by Maurice Frankel, director of the Campaign for Freedom of Information.

The DCA guidance also contradicts the guidance on personal information issued by the Information Commissioner which clearly states information about public officials that relate to their public role should be disclosed. It seems the DCA might be trying to undermine the Information Commissioner’s stance on this topic.

Names of MPs staff: FOI Request

Wednesday, March 30th, 2005

Judy Wilson
Freedom of Information Officer
House of Commons Information Office
Westminster, London, SW1A 0AA

January 2, 2005

FREEDOM OF INFORMATION REQUEST: MPs STAFF NAMES AND SALARIES

Dear Ms Wilson

I am writing to request a listing of all MPs� staff by name along with their individual salaries. My preferred format to receive this information is electronically either as a database on disc or via email. The Commons fees office, the central authority responsible for paying the staff, keeps a listing of this sort, making this an extremely basic request to answer.

I now make this request under the Freedom of Information Act. As I�m sure you know, the Act grants a statutory right to such information. The public have an interest in ensuring that the staffing operation of Parliament is above-board and that public money is being well spent.

This information is available in other countries. For example, the names of American Congressional Representatives� staff are made public as a matter of course even when they are funded privately.

I would be grateful if you could confirm in writing that you have received this request. I look forward to hearing from you within the 20-working day statutory time period.

Regards,
Heather Brooke

Results of Internal Review: Attorney General’s advice on Iraq War, ID Cards and listing of advice

Tuesday, March 22nd, 2005

I received the response below from the Attorney General’s Chambers. It details the results of their internal review on their decision to refuse my FOI requests for the Attorney General’s advice on the Iraq War, advice on ID cards and a listing of all the topics on which the Attorney General’s advice was sought.

In summary, the Government continues to reject the public’s right to know any of the information. I am appealing the decision to the Information Commissioner and will post the results here.

Read the original FOI request here.

Read the intitial response from the Legal Secretariat to the Law Officers, Attorney General’s Chambers.

1 March 2005

Dear Ms Brooke,

REVIEW OF REQUEST UNDER THE FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT 2000

I refer to your e-mail of 16 February of 2005 to Christopher Simson, asking for a review of the decisions to refuse your requests for information relating to (a) advice by the Attorney General on ID cards; (b) advice by the Attorney General on the legality of invading Iraq; and (c) a listing of topics on which the Attorney General has advised in the past 12 months.

I have carefully reviewed the handling of these requests. As to (a) and (b), the decisions not to disclose the information were made after very detailed consideration. This included consideration of the public interest arguments in favour of disclosure. As to (b), as explained in Christopher Simson’s response of 25 January, the Government has already publicly set out the legal basis for the use of force in Iraq.
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Records Concerning British Airways’ Decision to Stop Flying Concorde

Thursday, March 3rd, 2005

In response to a FOIA request, the Department for Transport has today released the following records on British Airways’ decision to scrap Concorde. Documents are available to download from the DfT’s disclosure log, but below is a summary of what is available. The documents are very enlightening particularly the correspondence between Virgin and BA. There is a big story here about BA’s lack of accountability for the huge sums of taxpayer money that were given to the company to build and run the Concorde programme.

  • Letter from BA to the Prime Minister – 10 April 2003 (PDF 296 Kb)
    Letter released in response to an FOI request regarding the decision to stop flying Concorde. Published: 3 March 2005.
  • Letter from Virgin to BA – 28 April 2003 (PDF 256 Kb)
    Letter released in response to an FOI request regarding the decision to stop flying Concorde. Published: 3 March 2005.
  • Letter from BA to Virgin – 29 April 2003 (PDF 730 Kb)
    Letter released in response to an FOI request regarding the decision to stop flying Concorde. Published: 3 March 2005.
  • Internal DfT e-mails – 29 April 2003 (PDF 140 Kb)
    Released in response to an FOI request regarding the decision to stop flying Concorde. Published: 3 March 2005.
  • BA Statement – 29 April 2003 (PDF 176 Kb)
    Released in response to an FOI request regarding the decision to stop flying Concorde. Published: 3 March 2005.
  • Letter from the Prime Minister to BA – 30 April 2003 (PDF 105 Kb)
    Letter released in response to an FOI request regarding the decision to stop flying Concorde. Published: 3 March 2005.
  • DTI Minister’s briefing on responding to Virgin letters – 2 May 2003 (PDF 11 Kb)
    Released in response to an FOI request regarding the decision to stop flying Concorde. Published: 3 March 2005.
  • Letter from DTI to Virgin – 6 May 2003 (PDF 168 Kb)
    Released in response to an FOI request regarding the decision to stop flying Concorde. Published: 3 March 2005.
  • Letter from Virgin to DTI – 16 June 2003 (PDF 149 Kb)
    Letter released in response to an FOI request regarding the decision to stop flying Concorde. Published: 3 March 2005.
  • Letter from BA to Virgin – 26 June 2003 (PDF 542 Kb)
    Letter released in response to an FOI request regarding the decision to stop flying Concorde. Published: 3 March 2005.
  • Letter from Virgin to BA – 23 June 2003 (PDF 312 Kb)
    Letter released in response to an FOI request regarding the decision to stop flying Concorde. Published: 3 March 2005.
  • DfT Briefing note 1 – 16 July 2003 (PDF 17 Kb)
    Released in response to an FOI request regarding the decision to stop flying Concorde. Published: 3 March 2005.
  • DfT Briefing note 2 – 22 October 2003 (PDF 17 Kb)
    Released in response to an FOI request regarding the decision to stop flying Concorde. Published: 3 March 2005.

High praise for Waste Management – Boos for Environmental Health

Wednesday, February 23rd, 2005

FOI Requests to the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea

Two of my requests came to fruition Tuesday. One positively; one positively Kafka-esque in the level of bureaucratic unhelpfulness.

First, praise for the handling of my FOI request for the borough’s waste management contract with private contractor SITA. I met with Peter Ramage, Head of Waste Management to view both the current contract and the working copy of the new contract, which will take effect 1 April 2005. By all accounts, I am the first member of the public to view the contract. But Mr Ramage said he would not have a problem making the contract available to all members of the public in its electronic form once it is finalised in the next few weeks. I hope this will be the case.

So why would you want to look at a waste management contract? Firstly, these contracts are paid for with your taxes. Kensington & Chelsea’s contract costs £12.2 million annually, not including the cost of running the waste management building, collecting abandoned vehicles, etc. Here’s a brief rundown of the contract:

  • Street cleansing specifications – this section lists the number of employees that clean streets plus a listing of every street and minimum cleansing frequencies. You’ll also find in this section which streets must be cleaned of chewing gum and how often they should be cleansed. Clearing away abandoned vehicles can sometimes be found in this part of the contract, but in RBKC clearing away abandoned vehicles is covered by another contract.
  • Location of all litter bins. As of 31 March 2004, the borough had 700 litter bins across the borough.
  • Listing of all the manned public conveniences in the borough (just three!). Unmanned public toilets are managed by the outdoor advertising firm JCDeceaux under another contract.
  • Number and location of winter vehicles (snow removers, salt bins, etc)
  • Notting Hill Carnival & special events – 200 tonnes of waste was generated at the last Carnival, much of it was unsold food abandoned on the streets. This section of the contract outlines the cleansing schedule for the Carnival i.e. when residents should expect the area to be back to normal. The contractor also cleans the area outside basement flats after Carnival.

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FOI Request for Harrods Food Hall inspection report

Wednesday, February 23rd, 2005

Freedom of Information Team
Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea
The Town Hall, Rm N111
Hornton Street
London W8 7NX

February 23, 2004

Dear Paul Stott

I am writing to make a request for information under the Freedom of Information Act and Environmental Information Regulations 2004.

I would like a copy of the food safety inspection report about Harrods food hall that was on the table when we met yesterday. As this is a simple matter of photocopying, I expect to receive it ‘promptly’ as mandated by law.

Secondly, I would like all correspondence, including email, concerning the release to the Sunday Times of information contained in this inspection report. This also includes external correspondence from other interested parties (such as, but not limited to, Harrods and any representatives of Harrods).

As you will know it is a criminal offence to ‘alter, destroy, hide or deface’ information once a request has been made. My preferred format to receive the report is in hard copy, my preferred format for the correspondence is a chance to inspect the records containing the information.

I look forward to hearing from you in the near future.

Regards,
Heather Brooke