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/

 

Author: Michael Breslin

I am no longer a councillor with Argyll & Bute Council but given the appalling treatment I got from the senior officers and a few elected members, I plan to continue keeping an eye on what the council is doing.

3 thoughts on “How not to handle an FOI”

  1. Interesting blog, but these are very complex issues Councillor Breslin, some of which cannot be fully grasped by ordinary citizens like of you and I. I believe if you refer to the Argyll and Bute Council policy guidance for officers on “How to Respond to Awkward Questions” you will find acceptable responses include “just coz”, “it wisnae me” and “dunno”. There is another very tricky clause know as the “whatever” response which, if used to maximum effect, could halt completely your entire line of enquiry. I understand Argyll and Bute Council’s legal department worked extensively with a group of 14 year old school children to put this policy together, it really is very difficult to contest this stuff. One option is to recruit a similarly profiled advisory group, they could put together recommendations for you about how to tackle this legal jargon which can fox many of us. It’s probably your best hope.

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