FoI and the legal minimum

THE message from Camden Council, and nearly every other local authority around the country for that matter, is that the cuts ordered from on high are so deep that everything must be peeled back to the statutory minimum. No extra childcare hours, no extra voluntary sector grants, etc. Officers and councillors are repeating the mantra that they will be able cover what is legally expected of them, but nothing more. This enables them, they tell us, to work out spending for the next three or four years and squeeze a budget together.

But what if the legal minimum is a movable feast. All local authorities – all institutions that receive public funding – are required to answer requests from members of the public for minutes, emails, spreadsheets etc under the Freedom of Infomation Act. It takes staff time to answer them and unfair withholding, in theory but not practice, of information after 20 days could even lead to imprisonment.

Yet the legal minimum for answering requests here is unknown; it could amount to anything from answering no requests or to hundreds, thousands every year. In the cuts dossier released last week, there was little mention of how Camden’s FoI team will operate with less money and potentially less staff. FoI has a valuable place in the journalist’s toolbox, the right questions when sensibly phrased can occasionally cause secrets to tumble into the open.

But who is going to answer those pesky reporters asking how many loo rolls, biscuits and paper-clips the Town Hall goes through every year? The law says those questions must be answered too, even if the council is skint.

6 Comments on FoI and the legal minimum

  1. Theo Blackwell // November 30, 2010 at 4:38 pm // Reply

    Another by-product of the cuts. Will look into it and get back to you next year.

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  2. Lets hope they don’t use the nuclear option of declaring all future requests on difficult topics “vexatious”. See these http://sites.google.com/site/talacrefacts/foi-requests-vexatious

    Nick

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  3. Non issue.

    FOIA contains an exemption for material available by other means. IIRC by central governemtn fiat Theo will shortly have to publish full details of all Camden’s spending, right down to the hob nobs in the leaders office. Dump the data in the public domain and you need never worry about an FOIA request again. OK, not all interesting data is financial data, but as a starting point I adopt the Watergate rule (“follow the money”)

    There IS a serious issue around mandatory legal duties when the cash runs out, but this isn’t it.

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  4. I am absolutely boiling with anger after hearing that the entire play service – after school clubs, breakfast clubs and holiday playschemes maybe AXED for ever, from 2012.

    Camden council is debating this on Wednesday.

    Sorry if this seems parochial, but the service is amazing and if they are thinking about doing it here, then the rest of the country will doubtless be affected.

    The after school clubs and holiday playschemes are a lifeline for working parents and the kids love it.

    A big fat slap in the face for the squeezed middle.

    If you live in the area, make sure your voice is heard.

    If you don’t live in the area, see this as the shape of things to come.

    Playcentres and After School Clubs have been running for years. In Victorian and Edwardian times they ran by gas light! (I wasn’t around then, but told by a family relative!!)They used to be for the social and self development for Children but now are run as money making (or as in this case,not) and as a Business has failed. Voters are enticed by the promises their Council Tax will not rise and little do they realise they may have an extra £2 in their weekly pocket, but services then get cut. The Government wont help as their ideaology is ‘if you cant afford it. you shouldn’t have it’. The Council will not be able to subsidide any more and so the Children of Camden and no doubt other areas will roam the streets once again with no purpos

    IMAGINE NO SUMMER PLAYSCHEME IN 2012-2000 CHILDREN WITHOUT PLAYSCHEME – CHILDREN LEFT HOME ALONE, RETURN OF LATCH KEY CHILDREN (SURPRISING HOW MANY PEOPLE IN THERE 20s DON’T KNOW THE TERM) INAPPROPRIATE CARE ARRANGEMENTS, OLDER SIBLINGS LEFT LOOKING AFTER YOUNGER ONES ETC
    CHILDREN EITHER STAYING INDOORS (ESPECIALLY YOUNGER ONES) OR OUT AND ABOUT IN THE STREETS AND PARKS
    INCREASE IN ACCIDENTS INJURIES – ROAD ACCIDENTS AND IN THE HOME
    CHILDREN IN THE SPECTRUM OF A BIT NAUGHTY, MISCHIEF, ASB, AND CRIME
    PARENTS ON BENEFIT CUTS – MAJOR BARRIERS ARE NO JOBS AND NO CHILDCARE
    SOME OF THE ABOVE WILL PUT INCREASE DEMAND ON THE RESOURCES AND COULD COST MORE IN THE LONG TERM
    THERE IS A STATUTORY DUTY ON THE LOCAL AUTHORITY TO PROVIDE SUFFICIENT CHILDCARE.SECTION 6 CHILDREN ACT 2006.
    THE PROPOSAL TO WORK WITH THE MOST VULNERABLE ONLY IS TOTALLY AGAINST PLAYWORK ETHOS AND PLAYWORK PRINCIPLES – HAVING AN INCLUSIVE APPROACH TO WORKING WITH ALL CHILDREN ENSURE THOSE WITH CHALLENGING BEHAVIOUR OR LEARNING DIFFICULTIES HAVE PEER ROLE MODELS ETC – ALSO STIGMATISES CHILDREN – “YOU ARE ONE OF THOSE THAT GOES TO THAT SCHEME”

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    • I love the ides that typing in capitals is you being angry. This is full of such rubbish. Noone is going to listen to you rant away like this.

      Latch key kids is a stupid phrase that’s why noone knows it. Plenty of children go home to empty houses today and always have done. Vastly more than ever go to an after school group. If you pay even the vaguest attention to schools or children in your area you might well notice this.

      As for the idea that the cuts will result in thousands of children roaming the streets and parks and subsequently being killed in increased RTAs…???? You need to stop taking those pills. This is laughable.

      One thing is certain you can’t have increased accidents from children roaming the streets and a load of latch key kids home alone babysitting a younger sibling.

      It’s exactly this ranting reply that gets the left labelled ‘loony’.

      Try and make a few well reasoned points will you.

      Like

  5. Theo Blackwell // December 6, 2010 at 2:17 pm // Reply

    “Local Tory” Camden was in fact one of the first boroughs to publish information online, and senior pay – something the Tories couldn’t manage to do when in power.

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