Last year I asked to inspect these invoices during the 30 day inspection period and was told this was unreasonable. I was asked to submit a FOI/EIR request (which I did). Now having submitted a FOI/EIR I am told Merseytravel estimate it would take 11 hours (within the 18.5 hour FOI cost limit). Merseytravel estimate that the activities of consulting and redacting (which don’t count towards the 18.5 hour limit) would take an estimated further roughly 24 hours that Merseytravel wish to class the request as vexatious instead.
I will point out (in case you’re wondering why it has taken nearly three years to get to that point) that this request has also been the subject of two other ICO decision notices FS50509081 and FS50569254.
So far Wirral Council has stated that the information requested would cost too much (section 12), that to give me the information would be prejudicial to the effective conduct of public affairs (section 36), that they class that doing an internal review of that decision as vexatious (section 14) and now finally when all of those prior decisions have been proven to be flawed, they withheld some of the information requested claiming it’s personal information (section 40).
My feeling about this is that Wirral Council, who refer to their approach in public as “open and transparent” have tried to engage in attrition warfare with myself and the regulator ICO over this request.
So what did I request that was released a fortnight ago? One document was minutes of the Members’ (Members’ means Councillors’) Equipment Steering Group meeting held on the 7th February 2013. The other document was minutes of the Members’ Training Steering Group held on the 19th March 2013.
Quite what is in these two documents that requires a nearly three year cover up about their contents, I’m not sure. The scanned pages Wirral Council have supplied for the meeting of the Members’ Equipment Steering Group and the Members’ Training Steering Group are unfortunately scanned at a low resolution which can make them hard to read. So I will reproduce them both below starting with the Members’ Equipment Steering Group. As that mentions audio recording and webcasting of committee meetings I will declare an interest.
The part of this request that relates to the minutes of a meeting of the Headteachers and Teachers Joint Consultative Committee I have appealed to the First Tier Tribunal (Information Rights) and am at the stage of awaiting ICO’s response to my appeal.
Actions from Members’ Equipment Steering Group Meeting held on 7 February 2013
Actions from the last Meeting
I Pads had been discounted at the last meeting.
Members’ Homepage and Toolkit – Homepage
Members would consider the proposed content and come back to XXXXXXXXXXXX with any suggestions for inclusion.
The proposed detail of the Members’ Toolkit was endorsed and XXXXXXXXXXXX would progress it.
Councillor Equipment Device Options XXXXXXXXXXXX would obtain a price for the following devices:
430 i 5
430 i 3
A recommendation will be made to the Cabinet subject to price and specification
Councillor Equipment Printer Options
The preferred printer was HP Office Jet 8000. In exceptional circumstances only would a Member’s own printer be connected to the network.
Wireless in Wallasey Town Hall
All Committee Rooms in the Town Hall would have wifi facilities by the time Members were in possession of their new IT kit.
Officers will look at the possibility of Members being able to receive emails on smart phones via wifi.
Councillor Equipment Rollout Timetable – Personally owned Ipad
A system would be purchased, configured and installed by IT Services to allow Members to use their own Ipads.
This was an option. Members will keep their existing bag.
This was an option.
– Telephone Handsets
Members would keep their existing handsets.
New furniture would not be purchased
– Modern.gov Application
Modern.gov could provide an Application so that Personal Devices could access "Exempt Items" at a cost of £3000. This would not be taken up
– Political Offices
Office staff would not be included in the new equipment roll out.
– Windows XP and Office 2010
– Broadband Choices
– Further Members’ Survey
Councillor Case Management Systems
Use of Personal Electronic Devices
Use of Councillors own equipment
iPad and HP Slate Autumn Trial
Audio Recording and Webcasting of Committee Meetings
Date and Time of Next Meeting
XXXXXXXXXXXX to canvass Members and arrange the next meeting.
Any Other Business
Below should be the Action Minutes of the Member Training Steering Group held on the 19th March 2013. On the original there is a third column with OD (Organisational Development) Team written next to points two to nine. It’s easier to write this in HTML without creating the way it is laid out as a table so I have left this out. I’ve also left out the page numbers and the filename/path on Wirral Council’s computer that it’s stored. However these can be viewed on the original.
The group welcomed XXXXXXXXXXX who is an associate tutor with the LGA and will be providing an overview of the Leadership Programme for Members
Noted that Cllr Clements did not attend the last meeting and apologies had been received.
Minutes and Matter Arising
a) Terms of Reference
Agreed that the Chief Executive would be included as support for the group.
The group would continue to sign off requests for training and will continue to be mindful of the travel and accommodation costs.
Agreed that OD would report back on a quarterly basis training approval decisions.
Agreed to put the terms of reference into themes and circulate.
b) Recruitment to Leadership Modules
Agreed that Members should forward names to XXXXXX to reserve a place on the course and to contact XXX should they have any queries.
An introduction session will run on the 10th April a Flyer will be sent out providing the details of the session. XXXXX explained that the Pre course briefing would cover an introduction to the programme followed by the completion of the Myers Briggs Type Indicator questionnaire as this would form the basis for the content on Module one, feedback would then be provided either face to face, which preferable or over the phone, prior to the programme commencing on the 8th May.
It was noted that participants are required to attend both modules to benefit from the programme.
c) Elected Member training onto the committee calendar
Agreed to escalate the request to include members training from the skills for Wirral programme into the committee calendar.
Standing Item – Training Update (since last meetings)
a) 13th February – Developing the Council of the Future
Noted that 30 attended the event with a mixture of feedback
Agreed to chase up the feedback from this event and share with Members.
Agreed to look at how Member’s could be provided with more opportunities to feedback and participate in these events.
b) Public Health and Wellbeing: 20 February 2013
Noted that 9 attended with very good feedback
c) Understanding Local Government Finance: 27 February 2013
Noted that 8 attended with very good feedback
d) Media Skills
Noted that 2 attended with very good feedback
e) High Level Communications Skills
Noted that 5 attended with very good feedback
f) Attendance on training
Agreed to continue to send reminders for training but as a rolling programme of events that month and to include flash reminder the day of the training that spaces are available.
Standing Item – Upcoming training ( Members Development Programme)
a) Effective Surgeries and Caseload Management Training
Agreed to look at were we are up to with an Electronic System for case load Management. Meeting already arranged with IT to discuss this and Members IT training, feedback would be provided at the next meeting.
b) Training Venues
Agreed to look at other venues rather than The Laurie’s Centre for Elected Member training sessions and move the training already book to other venues, to minimise costs.
Standing Item – Approved Duty Requests
No outstanding approved duties
a) Spending for Approved duties
Members to discuss and feedback as to how they would like to spend monies for approved duties, agreed to monitor on a case by case basis.
b) Feedback from Events Attended
Agreed to look at feedback from events and if particularly effective consider developing a Wirral version of the event.
Standing Item – Budget
a) Profile 2012-2013
Budget profile discussed and noted that there would be an under spend this year. Details shared with the group.
b) Profile 2013-2014
Approximately £13,000 has been committed to date. Budget to be monitored at each meeting.
c) Spending for Approved Duties
Agreed to explore options around external funding available.
Members Development Charter.
a) PDP Returns
46 PDP have been completed with 6 scheduled for April. This would bring the total to 52 PDP completed, which takes us over the 75% requirement for completion of the Members Charter. Agreed to continue to encourage the completion of all outstanding PDPs.
Members Development Programme Accreditation
a) Agreed for flyer to be sent to all Elected Members to promote the programme
b) Additional information from ilm to be sent to Cllr Harney
a) 4th April New Constitutional Event 6pm – 8pm Floral
b) 16 May Key Transformation and Improvement Agenda Session
Suggestion from Cllr Glasman Ethics and Conduct.
c) Training for Members – Directorships and Trusts
Advert to be sent to Elected Members when programme agreed
Date and Time of next meeting
30 April 2013 4 – 5.15pm
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The FOI request this relates to was made through the excellent whatdotheyknow.com website on the 29th March 2013. It’s for minutes of the meetings of 26 different panels, statutory committees, advisory committees and working parties that councillors are appointed to by Wirral Council.
In September 2014, the Information Commissioner’s Office issued 9 page decision notice FS50509081. In a nutshell that decision notice stated that by the 13th October 2014 Wirral Council had to:
b) advise whether it held the minutes of these meetings or not.
Wirral Council did not respond to the decision notice by the 13th October 2014. Instead it took a further three weeks than was allowed and Wirral Council responded on the 4th November 2014. Minutes of seven meetings were supplied (some minutes were supplied with some information blacked out). In response to other parts of the request it provided links to its website.
This left nine disputed parts of the request which were in relation to the bodies below (I’ll use the original numbering). JCC stands for Joint Consultative Committee and Members means councillors. I provide under each one what it’s remit was:
4 (School Appeals Panel)
To consider, as part of a statutory review process, appeals against decisions by the Local Authority (or the Governors of voluntary or aided schools) concerning the allocation of places in primary and secondary schools, and decisions by governing bodies concerning the exclusion of pupils.
The School Appeals Panel is drawn from a “pool” of lay members or members with experience in education. However, Councillors are ineligible to serve on Appeals Panels for schools under local authority control.
5 (Standing Advisory Committee on Religious Education (SACRE))
SACRE is responsible for advising the local authority on matters concerning the teaching of religious education and collective acts of worship; it decides on applications for determination of cases in which requirements for Christian collective worship are not to apply; and may require the local authority to review its agreed syllabus.
8 (Adoption / Fostering Panels)
As part of a wider membership, to determine applications for the adoption and for the fostering of children.
10 (Unified Waiting List Management Advisory Board)
To consider appeals from applicants who consider they have been unfairly treated or unfairly excluded from the waiting list, having exhausted the Steering Group appeals procedure.
11 (Discharge from Guardianship by Wirral Council under the Mental Health Act 1983 Panel)
To hear requests to discharge service users subject to guardianship upon the application of a professional responsible for their care.
15 (Headteachers and Teachers JCC)
To meet with headteachers’ and teachers’ representatives to discuss educational issues.
18 (Members’ Training Steering Group)
To advise on the preparation of the annual programme of training for Council members and on individual applications to attend courses.
19 (Members’ Equipment Steering Group)
To review IT equipment provision for members.
26 (Safeguarding Reference Group)
Established by Cabinet on 15 April 2010 for the purpose of ensuring that the most senior community leaders of the Council are enabled to carry out their responsibilities of safeguarding children and adults in Wirral.
Minutes of a Unified Waiting List Management Advisory Board meeting (part 10 of the request) Wirral Council merely stated “Officers are investigating if this Board has ever met/if there are any minutes available and we will answer this part of your enquiry as soon as possible.”
So I requested an internal review of the application of these exemptions on the 12th November 2014. On the 30th April 2015 Wirral Council responded to the internal review request. I’ll point out here that internal reviews are supposed to be completed within 40 days, but Wirral Council took 5 months.
Wirral Council also pointed out that since the Council’s housing stock was transferred out of Wirral Council’s control in 2009, that the Unified Waiting List Management Advisory Board (part 10 of the request) hadn’t met.
In relation to part 21 (Hilbre Island Nature Reserve Management Committee) Wirral Council stated “There are no minutes from 2013 the Hilbre Island Nature Reserve Management Committee as the present Committee was formed in March 2014.”
However Wirral Council still regarded the rest of the internal review request to be vexatious.
This decision notice found in relation to part 4 (School Appeals Panel) and part 11 (Discharge from Guardianship by Wirral Council under the Mental Health Act 1983 Panel) that Wirral Council does not hold information related to this part of the request.
This finding on the school appeals panels I find odd since the school appeals panel meets at Wallasey Town Hall. In response to a previous FOI request Wirral Council stated that it pays the taxi expenses for school appeals panel members and Wirral Council employees from the Legal & Member Services section of Wirral Council take the minutes of these meetings. Apparently Wirral Council states that there were School Appeal Panel meetings in 2012 but as they only keep the decision notices for 2 years that now it’s 2015 that Wirral Council don’t have them any more.
ICO also found that Wirral Council didn’t hold meetings of the Hilbre Island Nature Reserve Management Committee and believed Wirral Council when it stated “There are no minutes from 2013 the Hilbre Island Nature Reserve Management Committee as the present Committee was formed in March 2014.”
This is disputed by both Cllr Chris Carubia and Cllr Pat Williams as you can see by their response to a tweet below:
ICO also stated in its decision notice that Wirral Council had incorrectly applied section 14(1) (vexatious or repeated requests) to parts 15 (Headteachers and Teachers JCC), 18 (Members’ Training Steering Group), 19 (Members’ Equipment Steering Group) and 26 (Safeguarding Reference Group) of the request, because “these elements of the request are not vexatious”.
ICO did decide that Wirral Council had correctly applied section 14(1) to part 8 (Adoption/Fostering Panels) of the request because it deemed it to be vexatious (but is clarified in the decision notice as being a “disproportionate burden”). Wirral Council supplied the minutes of one adoption panel meeting and one fostering panel meeting to the Information Commissioners Office which came to a total of 95 pages. Wirral Council estimated it would take 23.5 hours of staff time (just over 15 minutes a page) to make the necessary redactions.
However the minutes of the Headteachers and Teachers JCC meeting, Members’ Training Steering Group meeting, Members’ Equipment Steering Group meeting and Safeguarding Reference Group came to less than 15 double-sided pages (30 sides of A4).
The decision notice also states “The complainant will not receive a response to some parts of his request until more than two years after he submitted it.”
Either Wirral Council or myself could appeal this ICO decision notice to the First-Tier Tribunal (Information Rights) within the next 28 days.
Here are some quotes from the decision notice (committee in the first quote refers to Hilbre Island Nature Reserve Management Committee).
“The Council, however, confirmed to the Commissioner on 20 July 2015 that, having undertaken a thorough search, it does not hold any Committee minutes from 2013 or earlier.
ICO believed Wirral Council so I suppose these published minutes of the Hilbre Island Nature Reserve Management Committee published on Wirral Council’s website from the 13th April 2007, 23rd November 2006, 13th July 2005 and even as far back as 6th April 2001 are just figments of my imagination. Perhaps I’m not “on message” enough!
Here’s another quote:
“The Council’s information manager had calculated that it took 70 hours and £1,750 to provide its response to the complainant dated 4 November. It argued that the amount of time the information management team had to spend on locating, retrieving and reading information falling within the scope of the request had a detrimental impact on the team.”
On the 4th November 2014 Wirral Council provided 22 A4 pages of information. The rest it either said it didn’t hold, was already on its website or that an exemption applied. That’s £79.54 per a page (or over 3 hours per an A4 page) of released information! How can it have had a “detrimental impact on the team” when Wirral Council took the 35 days the decision notice allowed plus an extra 22 days!
“The Council says this work would cause a disproportionate burden because the request does not appear to have an inherent purpose or value.”
So knowing what and how councillors make important decisions on the public’s behalf doesn’t have an “inherent purpose or value”?
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Why after 2 years, 3 months and 19 days have Wirral Council U-turned on refusing a FOI request for minutes of a public meeting that they claimed was vexatious?
Why after 2 years, 3 months and 19 days have Wirral Council U-turned on refusing a FOI request for minutes of a public meeting that they claimed was vexatious?
Wirral Council have over the years discussed the issue of Freedom of Information at many public meetings. I wanted to write about my experience of one request where it took 2 years and 3 and a half months for Wirral Council to release some of the information I requested.
Way back on the 29th March 2013 I made a FOI request to Wirral Council for minutes of various panels, statutory committees, advisory committees and working parties that councillors are on.
I asked merely for the minutes of the meeting held before making the request. One of these (numbered 5 on my list) was the minutes of the Standing Advisory Committee on Religious Education (SACRE).
This is what happened next.
20 working days went past and Wirral Council didn’t respond to the request, so on the 29th April 2013 I requested an internal review of Wirral Council’s lack of response.
On the 30th April 2013 Wirral Council replied refusing the request based on section 12 and claimed it would take longer than the 18.5 hours allowed to respond to the request.
I clarified what appeared to be a misunderstanding in the way I had phrased the original request and requested an internal review of this decision disputing that it would take over the 18.5 hour limit.
On the 14th August 2013 I appealed this decision to the Information Commissioners Office (ICO).
On the 19th June 2014 Wirral Council amended its response. It still refused this part of the request but now decided to amend its reason for withholding the information. It was no longer withheld relying on section 14 (vexatious or repeated requests) but back to section 12 (exemption where cost of compliance exceeds appropriate limit). The parts of the request that could be described as environmental information were refused using Regulation 12(4)(b) of the Environmental Information Regulations 2004 as being “manifestly unreasonable”. This is the EIR equivalent of the Freedom of Information Act’s vexatious exemption.
The 9 page decision notice said that Wirral Council had breached section 10(1) of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 and regulation 5(2) of the Environmental Information Regulations 2004 by not responding to this request within the first 20 working days of making it.
In addition to this it had breached s.16(1) of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 and regulation 9(1) of the Environmental Information Regulations 2004 which require Wirral Council to provide advice and assistance to those making requests.
Finally the decision notice required Wirral Council to issue a fresh response to this request within 35 calendar days of the 8th September 2014 that did not rely upon the exemption in section 12 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (cost grounds) or Regulation 12(4)(b) of the Environmental Information Regulations 2004 (that the environmental part of the request was “manifestly unreasonable”.
On the 4th November 2014 Wirral Council released redacted minutes of the Special Advisory Committee on Religious Education’s meeting of the 7th February 2013. Apart from the councillors on the committee anybody else on the committee had their name replaced by “name redacted”.
The minutes now looked like this:
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.
I consider that part of the requested information is exempt information under Section 40 (2) of the Freedom of Information Act 2000, in that the Complainant is asking for information which is personal data, in respect of which he is not the data subject. I consider that the disclosure of the requested information would contravene the second data protection principle that personal data shall be obtained only for one or more specified and lawful purposes and shall not be further processed in any manner incompatible with that purpose or those purposes. Certain individuals named in the Minutes dated 7 February 2013 (not including Councillors) would have a legitimate expectation that their personal data would not be further processed in a manner incompatible with the specified and lawful purposes of the Standing Advisory Council for Religious Education. I consider that the Complainant’s request for information can be met by giving him a redacted copy of the minutes dated 7 February 2013, which redacts the names of certain individuals and these are attached.
On the 12th November 2014 I requested an internal review of this (also challenging other information they had withheld). This is what I stated about this part of the request:
“5. Standing Advisory Committee on Religious Education (SACRE)
This relates to the minutes of the meeting held on 7th February 2013.
By statute this meeting meets in public. Another part of statute allows me to request the names and personal addresses of those on the committee. Other local authorities routinely publish the minutes of these SACRE public meetings. They do not redact the information you have.
My internal review on the redactions is then on the basis that:
a) the minutes relate to a meeting held in public
b) because of the above there is no legitimate expectation of privacy
You state “would have a legitimate expectation that their personal data would not be further processed in a manner incompatible with the specified and lawful purposes of the Standing Advisory Council for Religious Education.”
I will give more detail as to the lawful purposes of the SACRE referred to in relation to meeting minutes.
“7. (1) After a meeting the following documents shall be available for inspection by members of the public at the offices of the authority until the expiration of six years beginning with the date of the meeting, namely,—
(a) a copy of the agenda for the meeting;
(b) a copy of so much of any report for the meeting as relates to any item during which the meeting was open to members of the public; and
(c) a copy of so much of the minutes of the meeting as relates to any such item.”
The minutes of the meeting have been held in the last 6 years. Therefore I have an existing right of inspection to a copy of the minutes in unredacted form. Therefore the names of people in the minutes cannot have the private and personal nature that you ascribe to this information.
Secondly in addition to the names, the Group (ranging from A to C) of the individuals present has also been removed. Unless there’s only one representative from that group, merely the group letter
cannot be used to identify an individual.
Therefore I am asking for an internal review based of the information that has been withheld not being provided.”
No response was received in response to the internal review request, so I complained to ICO again.
On the 30th April 2015 (nearly 6 months after the internal review request that are supposed to take a maximum of 40 days) Wirral Council responded.
However, this change of heart of Wirral Council wasn’t just about the part of the request for a meeting of the Special Advisory Council on Religious Education. Their response to the part of the request for minutes of a meeting of the Hilbre Island Nature Reserve Management Committee was modified as follows:
Environmental Information Regulations 2004
Hilbre Island Nature Reserve Management Committee
I enclose an extract from an email provided to the Information Management Team which was as follows:-
“There are no minutes from 2013 the Hilbre Island Nature Reserve Management Committee as the present Committee was formed in March 2014.”
This is the reason that the council responded to your original request that it did not hold any information
I asked a councillor on Twitter about whether the Hilbre Island Nature Reserve Management Committee existed prior to 2014.
Two councillors were kind enough to reply to my question. Cllr Chris Carubia stated “From the discussions today I know it has been in existence for over 5 years at least”.
Cllr Pat Williams replied, “Yes I was a proud member for a number of years.”
Personally I believe the two Lib Dem councillors (one of whom was on the Hilbre Island Nature Reserve Management Committee) rather than Wirral Council’s officially stated position and I think I should draw to the attention of the Information Commissioner’s Office how their view differs from what Wirral Council states.
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A blogpost about the Freedom of Information Act, Wirral Council and the Information Commissioners Office
Wirral Council: “Bureaucratic Machinations” and Freedom of Information
If you don’t have freedom of information and expression, you are not living in a democracy; rather it is ruled by dictatorship with many heads.
Despite there being seven public meetings this month at Wirral Council, I am instead writing about an important topic I’ve been requested to by a reader (freedom of information). This post will be the first of three parts on the interrelated topics of freedom of information, freedom of speech and audit rights.
News from the Information Commissioner (who describe themselves on their website as “the UK’s independent authority set up to uphold information rights in the public interest, promoting openness by public bodies and data privacy for individuals) is that following three months of monitoring Wirral Council’s freedom of information act request responses at the start of this year, as they were responding to less than 75% of requests within 20 days (the legal requirement on Wirral Council is that they respond to 100% of requests within 20 days) and that they had a number of outstanding, overdue requests and internal reviews that Wirral Council are to sign an undertaking (I’ve linked to a copy of this undertaking here on my blog as some browsers don’t display the undertaking properly).
This undertaking commits Wirral Council to actually responding to FOI requests within the twenty day timescale and (perhaps more importantly) dealing with internal reviews according to the s.45 Code of Practice (which is another twenty days). In addition for July 2013 to the end of September 2013 Wirral Council has to provide the Information Commissioner’s Office with statistical information on requests and the timescale they’re responded to with the aim that by the end of September Wirral Council’s rather woeful 75% will be increased to 85%. There are also some commitments over allocating enough resources, employee training and dealing with some outstanding requests.
So the good news is Wirral Council will (hopefully) respond quicker to FOI requests and there won’t be the situation there has been in the past where internal reviews have taken up to a year to happen. Unsurprisingly a lot of these internal reviews have just upheld the original decision resulting in plenty of referrals onward to the Information Commissioner and decision notices being issued (which are legally binding on Wirral Council).
Let’s take my most recent request as an example of how not to do FOI by Wirral Council. The request can be viewed here on the whatdotheyknow website. Councillors sit on various panels, statutory committees, advisory parties and working parties at Wirral Council, the FOI request is quite simply for the minutes of the previous meeting (or if that is not available the minutes of the one before). The request was made on the 29th March 2013. On the 29th April 2013 (twenty working days later) I had received no response, so I requested an internal review as to why I hadn’t received a response.
The next day (30th April 2013) I received an apology for not responding to my initial response in “a timely fashion”, the internal review stated that the request was refused as it would take longer than 18.5 hours to comply with (exemption 12(1))) on the basis that:-
The very broad scope of your request, 26 varying panels, groups or committees are included
The fact that many of the committees you mention are not administered centrally but departmentally and information is not held in a central repository
The huge volume of School Appeals each year, running into the hundreds; including a great deal of Personal Data and Sensitive Data, which would have to be reviewed and redacted were applicable.
However they did offer to supply the Members Equipment Steering Group action notes (available from 17/7/12) and the Safeguarding Reference Group minutes (although I’ve never received either of these). They pointed out that the Independent Remuneration Panel Reports were already on their website (although rather unhelpfully didn’t supply a link).
They also stated “Further advice would be, if you could reduce the scope and breadth of your enquiry and also give some time frames in your enquiry, then Officers can review it further. ”
So sure enough I responded, classing their internal review as their initial response asking for a further internal review. I pointed out I was only asking for the minutes of one meeting (not a years worth as what I’d thought was my initially clear request had stated) and considering that the Independent Remuneration Panel reports were already on their website, felt that 45 minutes was ample time to retrieve a set of minutes and scan it in (although I offered to pick up paper copies if this meant the time limit was exceeded).
This request for the internal review was made on the 30th April 2013. The section 45 code of practice (which Wirral Council has now said it will stick to states that an internal review should take twenty days and only in exceptional circumstances forty days. The response to the internal review came on 30th July (two months after the request or sixty four working days (sixty two if you don’t count the day it was made or the day it was received).
Here are some quotes from that internal review, my thoughts are in italics, (the rest of it just repeats the original request, response and request for an internal review):
You requested “minutes of the previous meetings of the following committees. If minutes whether in draft form or not are not available of the previous meeting, please provide the minutes of the meeting directly before.”
The Information Manager interpreted your request as a request for the minutes of all meetings of the committees from time of inception.
Personally I think this is not what the original request (or clarification following the initial response actually stated) and it’s getting quite frankly nigh impossible to frame a FOI request that isn’t possible of being misinterpreted by Wirral Council into being something it’s not in order to justify a refusal.
It is possible that what you were in fact requesting was the minutes of the last meeting of each of the 26 panels that took place of the 26 panels prior to the 29 March 2013. You then indicated if those meetings had not been formally minuted you wanted the minutes of the last meeting of each of those panels that took place directly before the meeting that had taken place but not yet been minuted.
Reading these two sentences I felt pleased that someone at Wirral Council (albeit with the help of the clarification of my request for the internal review making it crystal clear) could finally read and understand what I meant.
The reviewing officer considers that as framed your request was ambiguous as you referred in your first sentence to “previous meetings” which would mean all meetings since the committees were constituted. The FOI team having interpreted your request on that basis refused it.
No, no, no, no, no, to be honest this must be someone from Wirral Council’s legal department to argue on such semantics, the previous meetings bit refers to either the last meeting or the one before (whichever has minutes available). It could also be plural because there are twenty six sets of minutes requested, therefore twenty-six previous meetings.
The reviewing officer considers that given the interpretation of the email the refusal was justified for the reasons given and on the grounds stated.
Sigh, any reason to turn something down eh?
The reviewing officer has gone on to consider whether a refusal of what appears to be your request ( as clarified by your later email of April 29) i.e. for minutes of the last meeting held prior 29 March 2013 of each group you mention should have been refused under s12.
Right, a little ray of sunshine, give me some hope that the “bureaucratic machinations” are going somewhere.
The groups you mention are not all served by committee services nor are they groups on which the Council is the sole interested party; nor are they all groups which the Council chairs and an inquiry would have to be made to a significant number of persons and locations. The reviewing officer considers that a request should have been refused under s14 of the Freedom of Information Act as imposing a gross burden on Council officers in retrieval consideration and redaction.
Err what, what has who chairs them got to do with this? Considering what to redact isn’t allowed to be counted towards the time limit anyway (according to previous case law), surely (knowing Wirral Council’s love of black marker) you’ll happily black out all the names in these minutes anyway?
It is clear that many of the panels you mention will be dealing with highly sensitive personal data in particular and without limitation no.s 1-4 inclusive; 8,9, 11; 16 23 and 26. Officer time in considering those considering the exemptions and redacting,
Again officer time in considering the exemptions and redacting doesn’t count towards the time limit!
consulting with third parties (for example the independent chairperson of the Adoption panel, representatives of other bodies on the committee)
So Wirral Council is seriously stating that releasing the minutes of a meeting of the Adoption/Fostering panel would require them to consult with the independent chairperson whose name will probably be blacked out anyway citing an exemption anyway? Just for reference the adoption panel is comprised of an independent chairperson, an agency advisor, a social work team manager, a social worker, someone who has previously adopted, the medical adviser, a consultant psychotherapist and a Wirral Councillor, there are no “representatives of other bodies on the committee”.
would in the view of the Reviewing Officer mean that the request should have been refused under s14.
The minutes requested for panel 13 are available on the Council website.
This refers to the Youth and Play Advisory Service Committee (which was seemingly not spotted by their initial refusal).
The decision made in response to your initial request is therefore upheld. If you are dissatisfied with the outcome of your internal review, please see contact details below for the ICO, should you wish to complain:-
Information Commissioner’s Office
Cheshire SK9 5AF
Tel: 08456 30 60 60 or 01625 54 57 45
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So to sum it up as follows, the initial request (as sensibly interpreted) didn’t breach s.12 (going over the 18.5 hours), however was refused (incorrectly) on s.12 (going over the 18.5 hours) grounds. The internal reviewer (at least by my reading of what they wrote) then realises (once the request is interpreted for what it was meant to be) there are no longer grounds to refuse under s.12 so instead refuses under s.14 (vexatious requests). This (and the initial refusal) are both based on the assumption that officer time in considering the exemptions and redacting information counts towards the limit. They’re not. In fact the list of allowable tasks is specified in legislation and doesn’t include consulting with third parties. So, I’ll be referring this to ICO for a decision notice in the near future. Comments (and links to any relevant caselaw) from experienced FOI requesters would be appreciated.