More FOI problems

My last post was on the manner in which the council responded to the FOIs raised about the costs incurred in the complaint against me. This can be read here.

I followed this up with an email today to all councillors and the press, as follows:

From: Breslin, Michael
Sent: 20 December 2016 10:13
To: Hendry, Douglas; Sneddon, Cleland (Cleland.Sneddon@argyll-bute.gov.uk); ‘sally.loudon@cosla.gov.uk’; Milne, Pippa
Cc: Armour, John; Blair, Gordon; Colville, Rory; Corry, Maurice; Currie, Robin; Dance, Vivien; Devon, Mary-Jean; Freeman, George; Green, Kieron; Horn, Anne; Kelly, Donald (Councillor); Kinniburgh, David; MacDougall, Alistair; MacIntyre, Robert Graham; MacLean, Iain; MacMillan, Donald; Macintyre, Neil; Macintyre, Robert; Marshall, Bruce; McAlpine, John; McCuish, Roderick; McKenzie, Julie; McNaughton, Alex; McQueen, James; Morton, Aileen; Morton, Ellen; Mulvaney, Gary; Philand, Dougie; Robb, James (Councillor); Robertson, Elaine (Councillor); Scoullar, Len; Strong, Isobel; Taylor, Sandy; Trail, Richard; Walsh, Dick; editor@obantimes.co.uk; Campbeltown Courier (Editorial) (editor@campbeltowncourier.co.uk); gordon@argyllmedia.co.uk; mghannan@btopenworld.com; craig.borland@newsquest.co.uk; news@buteman.com; ‘lesley@feistyproductions.co.uk’; Russell MW (Michael), MSP (Michael.Russell.msp@parliament.scot); doneill@north-ayrshire.gov.uk
Subject: RE: New response to your FOI request – Michael Breslin v Complaint by four chief officials of Argyll and Bute Council

I note that Cllrs Walsh, E Morton and Scoullar have not replied. No surprises there then but the question posed below will continue to be asked so I ask the three of you again: in what capacity were you acting when you made the complaint?

In yesterday’s National there was more bad press for the council over the very topic below, namely the nonsensical responses to the FOIs. The article can be read here:

http://www.thenational.scot/politics/14974159.Argyll___Bute_Council_reported_over_failure_to_respond_to_information_request_about_complaint_against_councillor_Mike_Breslin/

The problem we have is that the same Information Commissioner issued a highly critical judgement earlier this month on FOIs related to the sale of Castle Toward. I wasn’t aware of any of this until this morning’s article in The National which can be read here:

http://www.thenational.scot/politics/14976256.Argyll___Bute_Council_told_to_publish_secret_details_on_controversial_sale_of_Castle_Toward/

One of the many interesting aspects of this is that the report this relates to was released on 7 December but councillors, or at least most of us councillors, weren’t made aware of it. I wonder why. Were Cllrs Walsh, E Morton and Scoullar made aware of this?

Not so happy reading everyone.

 

Fantasy FOI Land

People have been asking questions about the costs of the 2 complaints and I posted a blog on this here.

Today, we moved into complete fantasy territory because Angus Files from Oban had appealed against the original FOI reply that said there were no costs to the council because they didn’t have the information requested. His appeal got the same response. Here is what I sent the 4 officers and councillors today, cc the press. This really is ridiculous and it’s the kind of behaviour Audit Scotland really should do something about. Angus Files has now gone to the Information Commissioner.

Good morning Messrs Sneddon, Hendry, Milne and Loudon.

You are all no doubt aware of the fairy story below. I have just seen a similar one in connection with the related complaint submitted by Cllrs Walsh, E Morton and Scoullar. I am told that in this first complaint, these 3 councillors “were not acting in pursuance of the Council’s corporate functions“ I have this morning asked them in what regard they were acting, but they’ll probably not reply, as usual.

You prepared and submitted a 100 page complaint against me. This apparently took no time to prepare and the complaint therefore incurred no costs to the council, not even the franking cost to post it. In addition, you held various meetings and  you were all interviewed by the investigating officers. By magic, no time was spent on these interviews because the council states there were no costs to the council. Another member of staff plus the council leader was also interviewed, at no cost.  You arrange for staff to be in attendance at the 2 hearings, one in Edinburgh where the member of staff stayed overnight, but all this cost nothing either. Miraculous stuff.

This, writ large, is very far from the open and transparent council that Audit Scotland want to see, never mind the long suffering citizens of this area.

Mr Files has already taken this to the next stage so we’ll see what happens but it’s unlikely to end well I suspect.

 

From: Angus Files
Sent: 15 December 2016 15:09
To: Michael Breslin; Alan Stewart
Subject: Fw: New response to your FOI request – Michael Breslin v Complaint by four chief officials of Argyll and Bute Council

Ho ho ho never knew it was April Fools day as well…

Classification: OFFICIAL

Dear Mr Files

Section 20 review: argyllbuteir:6306

Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 (FOISA)

I refer to your email of 17 November in which you requested a review of
how we dealt with your information request dated 20 October 2016. I have
noted that the response was sent within the 20 working day statutory
timescale on 16 November.

I am content that the response was appropriate in that the information
requested was information ‘not held’ by the Council.

If you are dissatisfied with the way in which the review has been dealt
with you are entitled to make an application to the Scottish Information
Commissioner, Kinburn Castle, Doubledykes Road, St Andrews, Fife KY16 9DS
(Tel: 01334 464610) for a review.

You must make representation to the Scottish Information Commissioner no
later than 6 months after the date of receipt by you of the notice or
decision you are dissatisfied with or within 6 months of the expiry of the
period of 20 working days from receipt by the Council of your request for
review.
—– Forwarded Message —–
From: WhatDoTheyKnow <team@whatdotheyknow.com>
To: Angus Files <angusfiles@btopenworld.com>
Sent: Thursday, 15 December 2016, 15:01
Subject: New response to your FOI request – Michael Breslin v Complaint by four chief officials of Argyll and Bute Council
You have a new response to the Freedom of Information request
‘Michael Breslin v Complaint by four chief officials of Argyll and Bute Council’ that you made to
Argyll and Bute Council.

To view the response, click on the link below.

https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/michael_breslin_v_complaint_by_f?nocache=incoming-910090#incoming-910090

When you get there, please update the status to say if the response
contains any useful information.

Although all responses are automatically published, we depend on
you, the original requester, to evaluate them.

— the WhatDoTheyKnow team

Response to Mr Sneddon

I have been taking advice on how to respond to the statement by Mr Sneddon which I published here. What follows went today to all councillors, the press and Michael Russell MSP.

The statement read out by Mr Sneddon at the meeting of Argyll & Bute Council on 24 November 2016 cannot be left unchallenged. I have been taking advice on it hence the delay in replying.
It appears this statement was made on behalf of the 4 complainants and was not just the personal views of Mr Sneddon. That wasn’t clear on the day.
It is clear that normal democratic and accountable practice should have ensured that the statement was provided to me first, in advance of the meeting, as a courtesy. It should also have been given to all councillors on the day and not several days later. Had that been done, the statement would have been open to questions at the meeting by councillors. None of these things happened.
A copy was only made available some 4 days after that meeting. It is not certain, therefore, that this is the exact text as delivered.
Given the above, let me now address the detail of the written version of his statement.
The statement said that officers are “precluded from publicly criticising elected members” but the statement contained strong criticism of me. The rest of his statement, therefore,   made a nonsense of that assertion.
His statement made no mention of the fact that the complaint had 15 elements to it and that the Commissioner dismissed 9 of these while determining that there were 6 breaches.  However, all but one of these, the most minor and open to all sorts of challenge, were subsequently dismissed by the Standards Commission.
His statement, therefore, completely ignored the fact that all 14 allegations of disrespect against him and his fellow complainants were dismissed as, of course, were the 15 allegations in the earlier complaint against me to the Standards Commissioner by Cllrs Walsh, E Morton and Scoullar.
Mr Sneddon’s statement asserts that the complaint that led to the hearing had no connection to that first complaint by Cllrs Walsh, E Morton and Scoullar.
That assertion is factually untrue. All of the first complaint was about Rothesay Harbour and a very large part of the second complaint was about the same topic. In addition, Cllr Walsh, one of the complainants in the first complaint was interviewed for the 2nd complaint.
There are, therefore, 2 clear connections between the 2 complaints.
In addition, during a very helpful meeting last week with the Standards Commissioner, he stated that in his view the 2 complaints were linked.
Mr Sneddon’s statement repeatedly mentioned  “behaviours” in a derogatory manner but omitted to state that none of those “behaviours” was found to be in breach of the code.   It was, therefore, not only inappropriate but factually wrong to refer to “behaviours” in this way.
Unless, of course, Mr Sneddon is indicating that he refuses to accept the findings. If that is the case, he needs to formally record these views with the Standards Commissioners.
His statement referred to “threatening and intimidatory behaviours” and Mr Sneddon has subsequently confirmed that he felt threatened and intimidated by me. However, none of these words, nor variants of them, was used in the complaint against me. It is, therefore, inappropriate and wholly unacceptable for them to be introduced at this stage after the complaint has been decided, massively in my favour it has to be said.
I don’t think there was anything remotely threatening or intimidatory in anything I said or wrote. All of the material in this case has been published and a check of that will bear this out. In addition, Mr Sneddon’s statement referred to “personal attacks”. There was no finding by the Commission that there were “personal attacks” so why is this unfounded allegation being made now?
His statement referred to  “many attempts” to improve working relationships but as far as I recall there might only have been one such attempt, and that appeared to me and to others as more of an attempt to shut me up.
His statement gave an inaccurate account of the attempts by me to resolve matters by way of reciprocal and caveated apologies before the hearing.
In reality, there were 3 such attempts, all initiated by me with the first one being via the Commissioner.    Mr Sneddon at no point initiated any attempt to settle the matter nor did Messrs Loudon, Milne and Hendry. The 4th attempt was sanctioned by me and was made by the Deputy Commissioner.
All four attempts were rejected by the officers involved. I remain of the view that it was the behaviours of officers, not my behaviours, that caused the breakdown in relationships.
In addition, the officers ignored the constitution of the council before they made their complaint. They also appear to have completely ignored Article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights, something the UK Ministry of Justice said had to be factored into their “day to day” work.
Even though the council constitution is flawed, they ignored the spirit of it and we still do not know if they submitted their complaint on behalf of the council or as private individuals. If the former, who sanctioned this? The many questions asked of them remain unanswered.
Accordingly I intend to let councillors and the public have access to further details on these matters by referring to and publishing material from the complaint and the hearing.
I am, in so doing, merely asking for an accurate and fair conclusion to these matters, which the statement from the chief executive does not provide.
I remain willing to agree with the chief executive on an accurate and fair concluding statement at any time.
That statement must acknowledge the basic truth of this matter which is that, after two plus years, and the determined efforts of three senior councillors and four senior officials, the Standards Commission found massively and conclusively in my favour.
Cllr Michael Breslin, 12 December 2016
 

How not to handle an FOI

At least 2 people asked the council how much the complaint against me cost them in staff time and other costs.  The council eventually replied saying there had been no cost to the council. When I found this out I wrote to the officer who deals with FOIs on 21 November, as follows, with all 7 complainants copied in:

Iain, I am aware of the replies given to people who have submitted FOIs about the costs the council incurred in submitting the complaints against me.

In the first complaint submitted by Cllrs Walsh, E Morton and Scoullar, we know that officers provided them with information on which they could base their complaint. What we don’t know is whether or not officers helped them in the pulling together of the complaint but there was officer involvement at some stage and, therefore, cost. There was also elected member time and therefore cost. What I don’t know is if any of the complainants were interviewed by the investigating officers by phone or face to face but there would be time and cost associated with that too Iain.

In the 2nd complaint by Messrs Loudon, Sneddon, Milne and Hendry, there were greater costs. A complaint that runs to nearly 100 pages would have taken a fair bit of time to pull together so there is a cost to this. The 4 complainants were interviewed by the investigating officer as were Messrs Walsh and Reppke. There were also telephone calls I understand, most certainly in the days leading up to the hearing. A member of staff (at least one) was present for the 1st day of the hearing and one of our legal staff was present at the 2nd day, having stayed overnight.

There may have been other costs I have not mentioned Iain but to say, as you did, that “there was no cost to the council” can’t possibly be correct.

As far as I know no further information has come from the council but there is an appeals process which I understand is underway. The text in blue above was copied to all councillors this morning with the following comment and link to today’s National newspaper.

From: Breslin, Michael
Sent: 05 December 2016 08:36
To: #All Councillors; Sneddon, Cleland; sally.loudon@cosla.gov.uk; Milne, Pippa; Hendry, Douglas; doneill@north-ayrshire.gov.uk
Subject: More bad press

Morning all, there is more bad press for us today because 2 FOIs on the costs we incurred in the complaint against me have not produced any information on costs.

In fact, we stated there were no costs to the council. Attached was my advice on this on 21 November. Now see link below please from today’s press.

You will note that I have made no public comment as yet on Mr Sneddon’s statement. That is because I have been taking advice on the matter and that remains the case. This issue has not gone away by any means.

http://www.thenational.scot/news/14945770.Argyll___Bute_Council_under_fire_over__false__claims_in_FOI_reply/