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Posted by: John Brace | 12th January 2016

Why after 2 years, 9 months and 13 days have Wirral Council U-turned on refusing a FOI request for minutes of the Safeguarding Reference Group?

Why after 2 years, 9 months and 13 days have Wirral Council U-turned on refusing a FOI request for minutes of the Safeguarding Reference Group?

                                                   

ICO Information Commissioner's Office logo

ICO Information Commissioner’s Office logo

Before I start this epic tale, I would just like to point out that someone has started a petition demanding an apology from the Labour administration at Wirral Council for their answer at the last Council meeting about information requests and their poor record on FOI requests.

A long time ago (29th March 2013), I made this FOI request for the minutes of meetings that happen behind closed doors (not public meetings) for committees that councillors sit on. Part of this request (part 26) was for minutes of the Safeguarding Reference Group.

I think it is better to provide a chronology at this stage as to how this part of the request went (references are to this part of the request).

29th March 2013 FOI request made.
29th April 2013 Internal review requested due to lack of reply.
30th April 2013 Internal review sent by Wirral Council. Request refused on cost grounds (section 12), but offer made to send minutes of Safeguarding Reference Group.
30th April 2013 Clarification over meaning of request sent/internal review as response on 30th April 2013 was first response.
30th July 2013 Internal review changes reason from cost grounds (section 12) to vexatious or repeated request (section 14).
14th August 2013 Decision appealed to Information Commissioner’s Office.
19th June 2014 Wirral Council amends reason for refusal from vexatious or repeated request (section 14) to cost grounds (section 12).
8th September 2014 ICO issue decision notice FS50509081. Decision notice overturns cost grounds (section 12) reason, finds Wirral Council failed to provide advice and assistance (section 16) and hasn’t responded to request within 20 days (section 10(1)). Wirral Council given 35 days to provide information or different reason.
4th November 2014 FOI request for minutes of Safeguarding Reference Group refused on section 40 (personal data) grounds.
12th November 2014 Internal review of 4th November 2014 decision requested.
30th April 2015 After ICO intervention Wirral Council replies. Wirral Council refuses internal review on section 14 (vexatious or repeated request) grounds.
Unknown date Decision appealed to ICO.
29th July 2015 ICO issued second decision notice (FS50569254). Decision notice overturns section 14 (vexatious or repeated request) reason for all of request except adoption/fostering panel part. Finds Wirral Council have breached section 10 (again).
3rd September 2015 Wirral Council respond to decision notice FS50569254. Minutes of Safeguarding Reference Group now refused on section 36 (prejudice to effective conduct of public affairs) and section 40 (personal data).
7th September 2015 Decision appealed to Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).
11th January 2016 Wirral Council supply minutes of Safeguarding Reference Group held on 19th April 2011.

Wouldn’t it have just been easier (as they made the offer to send the minutes of the Safeguarding Reference Group in April 2013) to supply these minutes then? How much officer time was wasted in refusing six pages of minutes on a committee that 7 councillors sat on and at least 5 senior managers (although one wasn’t present for the meeting).

The sixteen page serious case review about Child A, Child B, Child C & Child D referred to in the minutes dated 6th April 2011 can be found on Wirral Council’s website.

Three of the 7 councillors present are no longer councillors and at least three of the senior managers have either gone into early retirement or left Wirral Council.

There are 4 parts in the six pages of minutes where names have been blacked out. Did it really take 2 years, 9 months and nearly a fortnight to do this?

What was the point in spending over 2 years and 9 months refusing this request? The minutes they’ve supplied refer to a further meeting on the 20th July 2011 so although this is welcome, they may not be the right ones! I requested the minutes of the meeting immediately before my request on the 29th March 2013. Is the implication that the incoming minority Labour administration in 2011 scrapped the Safeguarding Reference Group (which was re-established on the 15th December 2014)? I’m not sure!

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Responses

  1. I’ve signed the petition as I believe that Councillor Jones has completely overstepped the mark in his comments regarding your FOI requests.

    Having said all of that, I agree with the point he was making.

    Responding to FOI requests has a cost implication for any Council and, let’s be clear, draws resources away from actual honest-to-goodness service delivery.

    I cannot fathom why you requested minutes of all those different meetings as they are all so disparate and varied – Was there an ‘End Game’ to this request? Or were you simply requesting them because, legally, you are entitled to?

    • In answer to your questions, apart from one (the Special Advisory Committee on Religious Education) which meets in public (although the public are not told where and when these public meetings are) they are all for committees that councillors are appointed to that meet behind closed doors (that is not in public).

      I felt there should at least be some scrutiny of whether councillors are turning up to such meetings (or just sending their apologies) as it comprises some of the work they are elected to do. I was also curious as to their contribution at such meetings.

      Yes I am legally entitled to make such a request, so far (although this is heading for its third decision notice), minutes of all the meetings requested have been supplied apart from four (the councillors’ development steering group (decides on training/conference recommendations), the councillors’ equipment group (decides on equipment for councillors eg laptops/iPads), a joint committee with headteachers and teachers and the fourth was adoption/fostering panel meetings as the reports to the adoption/fostering panel were included which meant at ~90 pages that part of the request was regarded as vexatious due to the amount of time it would take to redact information.

    • Good to see Annony back despite it lowering the IQ of your blog dramatically John.

      If people like Jones didn’t pretend to be a friend and turn people over like the tw** he is there wouldn’t be a need for a lot of FOI’s.

      The little fat welsh sloth thinks he is clever.

      He wouldn’t know openness, honesty and transparency if it woke him up in the chamber.

      He is one of the lowest life forms I have ever met.

      “Highbrow” will get the last laugh.

      Ooroo

      James

      • https://youtu.be/zMjpVCHy45I?t=23m6s

        See video above from yesterday on a LCR Scutiny Panel agenda item on European funding. After the “European adviser” has finished talking and answers some questions a Wirral councillor says this whole European money thing is “complicated”!

  2. On the matter of the invoices paid out for the Irbry Library to the cost of £700 I wrote to Anglea Eagle MP and had a reply back saying she had written on my behalf to the head of business processes in the Council and when she has heared back would then let me know, anyway a few weeks had gone by and nothing so wrote to her again, asking why no answer to my question, gets another letter back from her, and another from the Strategic Library Manager informing me that its being looked into as a matter of priority.

    In other words we will pass it around from one to another till you forget, don’t you just love these titles people have for their jobs, Strategic Library Manager, probabley earns him £20 grand more just for having Strategic in the line.

    When you write to Wirral Council don’t forget to add Corrupt in the address,

    • The former Head of Business Processes at Wirral Council, Malcolm Flanagan has left the employment of Wirral Council (his early retirement was announced on the 21st September 2015).

      He had responsibility for libraries.

      However this explains why your MP didn’t get a reply and why queries to him are being answered by someone else.


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