Cllr Ann McLachlan “the key problem here that we have a high volume of FOIs from a small number of people”

Cllr Ann McLachlan “the key problem here that we have a high volume of FOIs from a small number of people”

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Wirral Council’s Cabinet discuss freedom of information (19th June 2014) starts at 2:29 in the video above

Wirral Council’s Cabinet discuss the Freedom of Information Scrutiny Review (19th June 2014) L to R Cllr Stuart Whittingham, Cllr Bernie Mooney, Cllr Chris Jones, Shirley Hudspeth, Surjit Tour, Cllr Phil Davies, Graham Burgess

Cllr Ann McLachlan “the key problem here that we have a high volume of FOIs from a small number of people”


Wirral Council’s Cabinet discussed the Freedom of Information Scrutiny report, the Cabinet report, report and final report of the scrutiny panel can be viewed on Wirral Council’s website. The reason for it being on Cabinet’s agenda is that it was referred to Cabinet by the Transformation and Resources Policy and Performance Committee on the 14th April. I wrote a transcript of what was said then back on the 17th April so I’ll be following the same format here.

Right, which takes us on to item 16 in the governance, commissioning and improvement. It’s the freedom of information scrutiny review. This was a piece of work done under the Transformation and Resources Policy and Performance Committee. I’m delighted that Councillor Sykes, you’ve come along tonight to Cabinet and it’s really good that we’re giving you kind of an opportunity just to make to talk to the recommendations. OK, thank you.

Chair, I’ll keep things brief because everyone eager to get home.

What’s happening tonight?

Apparently there’s some football. During the last municipal year, the Transformation and Resources Committee carried out a scrutiny review to look into the FOI performance of the Council. As we began the review, the Council already began taking steps to improve FOI response times after the Information Commissioner had investigated and asked us to make some improvements and I’d like you to know obviously that you know that improvement came, response times to over 85% now within the guidelines which has improved since this report was done.

Eight recommendations came out of the report which are detailed in the report so I won’t go through each individually but I’ll take any questions should people ask them. They basically covered a couple of areas, firstly having designated people who are responsible for FOI throughout the Council rather than the current situation which is different across the Council depending on departments which answer your question.

Also to produce a more consistent and robust process throughout the Council as to how the FOI request is tracked and how it proceeds to make sure things run on track and things move forward in a quick fashion. Finally, to also improve the monitoring for carrying out both the scrutiny duty in the, in the… finally note the improvement in that and also by councillors as well, a strategic review that the Council’s put in place. That’s the Chief Executive’s Strategy Group. So I’m happy to take any questions.

Thanks for that Adam, I’m going to ask our Cabinet Member who this item comes under Councillor Ann McLachlan just to respond to this report, Ann over to you.

COUNCILLOR ANN MCLACHLAN (Cabinet Member for Governance, Commissioning and Improvement)
Yes thank you, well, Chair I’d like to start by congratulating Adam and Councillor Whittingham I believe and it’s Councillor Muspratt who formed this scrutiny review for Council and undertook what is an excellent piece of task and finish work really helping us to refine and you know be more efficient in dealing with a particular problem area and certainly it’s an excellent piece of work and I’d really like to congratulate you but as you’ve pointed out Adam there are eight recommendations which flow from your, from your review and as a result of that now in conjunction with Surjit [Tour], Head of the Legal Service I’ve now worked on an action plan to address those eight recommendations.

Just briefly I’d like to talk about that Chair and what those actions will be, but suffice to say that those actions will be implemented between now and December and we will have further reports to Cabinet and certainly to Council on those and they will include the nomination of champions. So a single point of contact for FOIs within departments and I understand the strategic directors and heads of service will be identified in nominating champions and that action will be done fairly soon.

There are a number of actions that are going to relate to our CRM which is our customer relationship management software system and we’re going to look at that in particular in a number of areas. One is how can we do better recording and monitoring to shorten the timescales when we receive FOI requests and also a solution possibly to look at how we capture all the information about an FOI before it’s actually disseminated so we’ve got it all in one place and a further piece of work is going to be undertaken with our software also to look at whether it’s actually fit for purpose to deal with some of these issues and if it is identified that we actually need a new kind of piece of software then we’re going to ask for a business case to be brought forward to show that we demonstrate that that’s going to you know have some good outcomes for us.

Also in terms of one of the recommendations that you made was you know at what level in an organisation are the FOIs dealt with. From the FOI reporting is now going to be escalated to the Chief Executive and his Strategy Group but also and I think quite importantly to go to the policy and performance committees into our new performance management framework now. So you can actually have much more oversight in terms of scrutiny of this area.

Another piece of work is going to be undertaken to identify all the new trends and themes really, so we can categorise FOIs. You know that the key problem here that we have a high volume of FOIs from a small number of people who request them but are some of those on particular trends and themes, when we could create something on our website which would be like frequently asked questions so that information is there it’s readily accessible.

What we want to do is make sure that we’re as open and transparent as we possibly can be in order that we can lessen the number of FOI requests that need to put through the Council. Another piece of work that we’ll be undertaking with our marketing team to look at how is information structured and accessed on our website in other words how accessible is information? If you come onto the Council’s website and you’re trying to find something out, how easy is it? So we’re going to ask the department to kind of market test queries and see whether we need to do some work there but I think all in all what this piece of, this exercise has demonstrated is that members [councillors] working together have come up with shared solutions that are going to help us to deal with this in a more effective way.

It is going to involve some of internal systems, some of our ICT but again I’d like to thank you and I’d also like to thank Surjit [Tour] and his team and those people that are going to undertake the workload going forward and I’ll be looking forward Chair to reporting to the Cabinet and Council on what I hope will be you know will be a more successful story going forward in terms of the numbers of requests that we’re receiving. OK, thank you.

OK, thanks Ann, well can I suggest we agree kind of Ann’s sort of plan for taking this work forward and that means, I’d just like to reiterate I think it’s been a really excellent piece of work by the scrutiny team so well done Adam to you and your colleagues and thanks for coming along tonight to take us through it. OK, thanks very much. OK

OK, I’d just thank the Cabinet Member and the officers for their response in a positive way in moving this forward and I’m grateful for the recommendations.

OK, thanks very much. OK, so we’ll agree that as a way forward. Is that agreed Cabinet?


Thank you.

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