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Posted by: John Brace | 10th November 2014

Wirral Council take nearly 20 months to respond to a FOI request for SACRE meeting minutes that should only take 20 days

Wirral Council take nearly 20 months to respond to a FOI request for SACRE meeting minutes that should only take 20 days

                                   

ICO Information Commissioner's Office logo

ICO Information Commissioner’s Office logo

I wanted to write this piece to show how hard it is to get information out of Wirral Council, that is routinely published elsewhere.

On the 29th March 2013, I made this Freedom of Information Act request for the minutes of the previous meeting of Wirral Council’s Standing Advisory Committee on Religious Education (SACRE).

Just as a bit of background as to what the Standing Advisory Committee on Religious Education is. The Education Act 1996 c.56 has s.390 to s.397 on these committees and there are also regulations called the The Religious Education (Meetings of Local Conferences and Councils) Regulations 1994 which have the following regulations relevant to this:

Regulation 3 determines that the Standing Advisory Committee on Religious Education meets in public. Unusually the regulations also states that they can’t exclude the public or press except for disorderly conduct.

The public have a right to inspect a copy of the minutes of its meetings for up to 6 years after they’ve happened (also agendas and reports).

Wirral Council even has to give three days advance notice of SACRE meetings.

This document on Brent Council’s website on page 14 states “The main meetings of SACRE are public and open to all. Under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 all SACRE documents are required to be available for public scrutiny.”

Under Wirral Council’s internal rules this committee is not however administered by Legal and Member Services, but instead serviced by officers from the Children and Young People’s Department. It doesn’t for example appear in the list of public meetings on Wirral Council’s website.

So this is what happened when I tried to request the minutes of one meeting of SACRE.

29th March 2013 FOI request made using excellent whatdotheyknow website.
29th April 2013 Wirral Council exceeds 20 day limit for responding to request and is sent a reminder
30th April 2013 Request refused on s. 12(1) cost grounds (require >18.5 hours of work) due to:

“a great deal of Personal Data and Sensitive Data, which would have to be reviewed and redacted were applicable.”

30th April 2013 Internal review of decision of 30th April 2013 requested. It is pointed out to Wirral Council that redacting documents does not count towards the 18.5 hour limit.
30th July 2013 Internal review decision also refuses request, not on s.12(1) cost grounds but on s.14 (vexatious or repeated request) grounds.
14th August 2013 Internal review decision appealed to Information Commissioners Office
8th September 2014 ICO issue decision notice FS50509081

Decision notice states (in relation to this part of the FOI request) Wirral Council breached s.10 and incorrectly applied s.12 and s.16:
s.10 (time for compliance with request) due to failure to respond to FOI request within 20 working days
s.12 (exemption where cost of compliance exceeds appropriate limit) (failed to provide evidence)
s.16 (duty to provide advice and assistance) (breached requirement)

ICO require Wirral Council to take the following steps within 35 calendar days (deadline 13th October 2014) or alternatively appeal the decision notice within 28 days of the 8th September 2014:

Issue a response to the complainant’s request that does not rely upon section 12(1) of the FOIA or regulation 12(4)(b) of the EIR.
Provide advice and assistance to the complainant about which of the requested information is held by the council, and therefore falls under the terms of the FOIA or EIR.

14th October 2014 (36th calendar day after decision notice) no response received from Wirral Council (after which time it is considered contempt of court) so I tell ICO.
4th November 2014 Wirral Council supply the minutes of the SACRE meeting held on 7th February 2013 but remove all names (apart from councillors) on the basis of s.40 (personal information) of the Freedom of Information Act 2000.

So the minutes supplied (this is an extract of the first three agenda items) look like this (I’ve added annotations in italics with an asterisk):

MINUTES OF THE MEETING OF THE STANDING ADVISORY COUNCIL FOR RELIGIOUS EDUCATION HELD ON 7 FEBRUARY 2013

Present:
Names Redacted

* Groups A to D are as follows (who makes up SACRE is determined by s.390 of the Education Act 1996:
Group A “a group of persons to represent such Christian denominations and other religions and denominations of such religions as, in the opinion of the authority, will appropriately reflect the principal religious traditions in the area;”
Group B “except in the case of an area in Wales, a group of persons to represent the Church of England;”
Group C “a group of persons to represent such associations representing teachers as, in the opinion of the authority, ought to be represented, having regard to the circumstances of the area;”
Group D “a group of persons to represent the authority.” (see below)

Councillor W Clements
Group D

Councillor W Smith
Group D

Councillor P Kearney
Group D

Councillor B Mooney
Group D

In Attendance: Names redacted

Name redacted in the Chair

1.
WELCOME

Name redacted formally welcomed everyone to the meeting and introduced the first item on the agenda – the Election of a Wirral SACRE Chair for the year 2013/14. .

2.
ELECTION OF POSTS

Name redacted was proposed by Councillor Clements and seconded by Name redacted. By a unanimous show of hands Name redacted was duly elected to the post of Vice Chair.

Name redacted nominated Name redacted for the post of Vice Chair and this was seconded by Name redacted. By a unanimous show of hands Name redacted was duly elected to the post of Vice Chair.

3.
SACRE Business Matters

Apologies for absence were received from Names redacted, Councillor T Smith, Name redacted.

So advice anyone, should I request an internal review of the decision to redact the names? As these are public meetings, how are the public or press supposed to find out when they meet? If I requested further SACRE meeting minutes do you think they’d take 20 months (rather than the 20 days required under FOI) to supply them?

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Responses

  1. Another week Mr Brace, you will find that the Local Authority has a duty for MORAL GUIDANCE, as well, as their other Duties. I must admit, I do not want to sound like Mr Griffiths, but you or he does not have the sole monopoly on FOI Requests and some of the answers received. In fact one FOI request was made up for me and sent in.

    • If They want they can remove it, but I made sure I got a Copy and that was by my “Pretend Friend” and others. I will give you odds on, that my pretend friend is the same as others

      • You can write as much about your pretend friends as you like as they’re imaginary. 🙂

        It’s only if people can figure out that your pretend friend relates to someone living that the problems can begin.

    • Ironically the Standing Advisory Committee for Religious Education is all about morality. 😀

      No I don’t have sole monopoly on FOI requests. In the last year to Wirral Council I have only made 29 FOI requests (this is just counting new requests rather than answers received to requests made more than a year ago).

      Out of those 29, 11 were refused, in 2 the information was not held by Wirral Council which leaves Wirral Council having to actually answer a grand total 16 requests (over a 52 week period).

      Let’s compare those 29 requests over the year (a year ago to date) to how many were made in total to Wirral Council (based on the last yearly figures available) for 2012/13:

      This report states there were 1,082 requests.

      Therefore (assuming the rate of requests is roughly constant) I account for ~ 2.7% of requests.

      There are others that make far more FOI requests than me. I think Mr. Sheffield once made about 240+ requests in one year. If you put a list of the people that made the most requests, I think I came about 7th or 8th by number of requests (in a year I made 7).

      Wirral Council are a large council and should be able to cope.

      In other local councils many of the matters I have requested are routinely published anyway.

      Some like this one here can be answered with a yes or no answer.

      Here’s one request I made that led to headlines in the local newspapers. It was about one councillor complaining about what another councillors said about him in the press. The report provides an interesting insight as to what is acceptable political speech in this country.

      There are other requests I could point to where there is a public interest in the transparency of this information being known to the public and press.

      It would be far cheaper of Wirral Council to just provide me with the information I request, rather than drag things out for months or years.

  2. G’day John

    I don’t really want “reprahnepets” to sound like me do you?.

    Who is this man I prefer to spell it this way because it looks more like peanut?

    Have a good week “Tarras” when do they all get made redundant?

    You will get some gossip then boy.

    Ooroo

    James

    Ps Keep up the great work

    • A lot are prepared to spill the beans after they leave. 🙂

      Sadly I have to deal with the trade union trouble they manage to cause me before it’s decided who leaves.

      Or alternatively they have decided to leave and they know it’s pointless me complaining to their line manager as they’ll have left before Wirral Council gets round to telling them off.

      That’s a point, does Wirral Council have a professional standards department (no sniggering there at the back)?

      It’s a bit like the Big Brother house really. Everyone knows people are about to be evicted made redundant, it’s just a question of who. 😀 Although I’m sure you could come up with a list of who you wouldn’t miss!

    • You should class it as flattery that he’s trying to imitate your Australian English. 😀

      • G’day Mate

        Can you tell your “bessie” reprahnehpets that just by the way I have never put an FOI request in.

        Who is he “Tarras” the man with no cojones to use his real name?

        Ooroo

        James

        • He (or she) might be mixing you up with Mr. Hobro who has.

          You both have H in your name you see! 😉

          No idea who he (or she) is. Can only tell you where in the world they are writing from if you want to know.

          • G’day John

            Let me guess.

            He, too effeminate to be a women.

            Is either sitting in the Clown Hall waiting for “The Shyster” to tap him on the shoulder with P45. Oh no “The Shyster” would be too gutless.

            My second guess would be Fairyland.

            Am I right, am I right.

            Ooroo

            James

            • Text analysis of last 534 words written by Stephen Harper on blog:

              Genre: Informal
              Verdict: MALE
              Difference = 1054; 76.37%

              Genre: Formal
              Verdict: Weak FEMALE. Weak emphasis could indicate European.
              Difference = -41; 48.78%

              So I’d say inconclusive whether male or European female at this stage (unless I analysed more of the comments written or split into formal/informal comments).

              • Ok John

                So John what does your text analysis say about me?

                Did the “Football Shirt” lie to me or did “Graham Burge(r with the lot plus super duper car and 7 mistakes http://goo.gl/znBccO in 29 seconds)ss’” 8 October farce suggest otherwise?

                Ooroo

                James

                You know you’ve got nothing better to do.

                Find contracts after 3 years yerr avin a laugh. Signed to boot!

                Does it say I am a man anyway?

                • The text analysis of recent comments points out that you have picked up some European English.

                  However it is only configured for American or European English, not Australian English.

                  Therefore it cannot determine a guess as to gender as your Australian dialect (although mixed with European English) is outside of the knowledge base of the program.

                  • G’day Mate

                    Get that lie detector on your supersonic swivelling camera and that will give you a buuzzzzzzzzzzzzzz in the chamber “Tarras”.

                    When “The Football Shirt” speaks it might turn into an adult toy.

                    Ooroo

                    James

  3. NO OFFENCE MEANT COBBER

  4. Hello Boys, I am back (Well you have to put a bit of Wit into it).

  5. Many thanks Johnfor the fantastic suggestion, possibly non-developers like us should yank this kind of off of: )This is very essential a new multi-international site when it comes to SEO.


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