Saturday, 17 September 2011

MetPro and Barnet Council: the longest FOI response in the history of Broken Barnet

A reluctance to answer questions, here in Broken Barnet

You're going to like this.

Mrs Angry has been sent copies of an Freedom of Information response sent to a resident of Broken Barnet yesterday, after, wait for it, a staggering FIVE MONTHS delay.

As you may know, FOI responses are meant to be answered as soon as possible, within a twenty day period, but preferably sooner. In Barnet, if you are lucky, you may receive a response at the end of the statutory limit. The fact that replies are only meant to be kept to the end of the twenty day period under certain circumstances is a fact of no interest to the senior management team of Broken Barnet. They routinely sanction a cynical policy of determined avoidance of answering FOI requests wherever they think is politically necessary. (See Mr Mustard's recent post for further illumination.)

As it happens, Mrs Angry has only just received a response - a totally negative and obstructive response, which will be challenged and reported to the ICO - from Barnet, refusing to answer her query in May, about senior officers and links to BT. She only obtained this belated response after asking the leader of the Labour group to intervene. This is despite the fact that BT is one of the companies shortlisted for the huge £750 million package of business opportunities currently going through the tender process. You can work out yourself why the MetPro FOIs submitted by Mr P have been held back, in flagrant breach of the regulations, until now.

Here are the highlights of the response sent yesterday to Mr P in regard to his FOIs, submitted in April, shortly after he, like Mrs Angry, was secretly filmed by MetPro attending the infamous budget meeting, in the public gallery of the Town Hall - if you recall, the ICO last week upheld Mrs Angry's complaint about this illicit filming.

Here we go:

Response to your requests for information

I write in response to your requests, received by us on 8th and 11th April 2011, for the

information related to MetPro security.

We have processed these requests under the Freedom of Information Act 2000

(FOIA). Under the FOIA you should have received a response within 20 working days.

I apologise on behalf of the council for not meeting this deadline and for the significant

length of time it has taken to respond to your requests.

Response to request of 8 April 2011

“All emails to and from any member of staff from the Corporate Governance

Directorate to or from any other employee or officer of the London Borough of Barnet

in relation to any Freedom of Information request on 'Met Pro Rapid Response' or

'Met Pro Emergency Response'.”

Subject to the two exceptions discussed below I have redacted the names of all

individuals referred to in the emails. These redactions are based on the exemption in

section 40(2) of the FOIA, which applies to third-party personal data when disclosure

would breach the ‘data protection principles’ in the Data Protection Act 1998 (DPA).

In my view council officers and other individuals would not reasonably expect their

identities to be published in these circumstances. As such doing so would breach the

first data protection principle, which requires all uses of personal data by the council

to be ‘fair and lawful’.

The first exception is that I have left in the names of senior officers, as I do not

consider it would be a breach of the DPA to disclose their identities in these


The second exception is that I have left in your name where it has been mentioned.

Technically speaking this part of our response is not a ‘public disclosure’ under the

FOIA but a personal disclosure to you only.

Er, yes. Only thing is, that days after getting into trouble with the Information Commissioner for their negligence in relation to the failure to prevent MetPro from illicitly filming Mrs Angry, the London Borough of Barnet have broken the Data Protection Act yet again, by the same regulations they use above to excuse the withheld names of any council officers - in at least one of the 5o attachments sent to Mr P, they have identified Mrs Angry by her real name (one of them, any way) - to a third party, without her permission. Naughty, naughty London Borough of Broken Barnet, yet again: you can expect Mrs Angry to be following this up in the very near future, in addition to the complaint regarding the filming. But back to the response:

“The number of Complaints made to the Council regarding 'Met Pro Rapid Response' or 'Met Pro Emergency Response' and their use of covert filming.

Our Customer Services team received approximately 7 emails via ‘First Contact’
following the 1 March Council meeting regarding Metpro. It is possible that other
council services, officers or members also received complaints that may fall within
this part of your request. Unfortunately, however, we estimate that searching the
entirety of the council’s records for this information would exceed the appropriate
costs limit under section 12 of the Freedom of information Act 2000. This is currently

The council has a customer relationship management (CRM) system on which
complaints are logged and administered. We would need to manually trawl through
all CRM entries to identify and locate the information you have requested. There are
approximately 130 entries logged on this system each month. In addition, not all
council services use the CRM system, but instead use local systems to process and
store requests.

Such a search would take a very significant amount of officer time. It is not possible
to estimate how long this would take but such a task would well exceed the £450 limit
(calculated at £25 per officer per hour, so equivalent to 18 hours in total).

This is a ridiculous answer. A total of 130 entries per month does not present an unreasonable amount of data to look at in order to be able to respond to this request, especially if the response had been answered within the statutory period - or even in a five month period. This is simply a calculated refusal to comply with an FOI request.

“The legal advice received by the London Borough of Barnet following the above mentioned companies use of covert filming.”

I confirm that the council does hold information falling within this part of your request.
However I am refusing to disclose this under the exemption in section 42 FOIA. This
applies to information protected by legal professional privilege, which covers
communications between lawyers and their clients for the purpose of obtaining legal
advice (LPP).

Even where this exemption applies, the council must still disclose legally privileged
information unless the public interest in withholding it outweighs the public interest in
disclosure. This extra stage is known as the ‘public interest test’.

The Information Commissioner’s has published guidance acknowledging that “If LPP
applies, there will need to be strong public interest in disclosure to offset the
inevitable strong public interest in favour of the exemption.”
In my view, whilst there is a general public interest in openness and transparency,
this is outweighed by the strong public interest in maintaining a degree of
confidentiality between the council and its legal advisors. In my view therefore the
public interest weighs in favour of maintaining LPP in this instance.

This is of course a load of balls. The public interest is clearly best served by answering this question openly and honestly. Openness and honesty, infortunately, are two creatures rarely to be found in the primeval swamp of Broken Barnet.

Moving on, then:

Response to request of 11 April 2011:

“All correspondence and documentation between the London Borough of Barnet and Met Pro Rapid Response/Met Pro Emergency Response regarding the companies compliance with SIA licensing since 2006.”

After searching our records I confirm that no information is held falling within this part
of your request. This failing was recognised by the council’s Internal Audit in its
report to the Audit Committee in June 2011, the report stating: “There was no
evidence of routine checks to ensure that officers had valid licenses relevant to
security tasks.”

Oh dear.

“The number of individual FOI requests made regarding Met Pro Rapid Response or Met Pro Emergency Response that have not been answered within the 20 day statutory requirement.

As of 11 April 2011 the council had received 14 requests regarding MetPro
companies. Of these requests:

- three had been responded to within the statutory timeframe
- eleven were outstanding, of which
- six were still within the statutory 20 working-day period
- five were outside the statutory 20 working-day period

Speaks for itself, I think, don't you?

“How many days were the newly formed 'Met Pro Emergency Response' operating on behalf of the Council prior to any contract being withdrawn the old 'Met Pro Rapid Response'.”

Over the course of their involvement with the Council, three different MetPro have
been involved and operating under the following names:

1. MetPro Rapid Response Ltd: from 1/7/2005 to 14/3/2011
2. MetPro Group(2007-2008) and MetPro Group Ltd: came into effect 5/12/2008
to 13/7/2010
3. MetPro Emergency Response Ltd: created 13/1/2011

And no one thought to query the sequence of changing companies, or check the contractual basis for the retention of any of these companies? How very odd. And how very odd, citizens, that no one has been held to account for failing to spot the grossly negligent indulgence shown to MetPro, in the long history of its 'arrangement' with the London Borough of Broken Barnet.

One Barnet: a ruthless drive for efficiency. Yeah, right. Ruthless, I'll grant you. Efficient? What do you think, citizens?

Much more to follow - the emails they didn't want us to see ...


Anonymous said...

£25 per officer per hour? When I worked in Democratic Services in a county council a couple of years ago, the only people earning that sort of money would be department heads ie. not the sort of employee charged with searching an email system. Mrs Angry, I know full well how my council logged complaints coming into Dem Services (short answer: we saved them in Outlook) and estimate it would take me less than ten minutes to go through 130 emails manually and even less using a suitable search term such as the name of the complainant if known. If I can do it in ten minutes manually on Outlook, then why can't Barnet do it in quick time on a CRM system? Barnet's reply is absolute balls in this regard. £450 to search 130 bloody emails, absolute bollocks, when it'll be an £8 per hour admin bod doing the work.

baarnett said...
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baarnett said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Mrs Angry said...

Andy: you are quite right - I cannot imagine any officer on £25 an hour would be assigned such a task, and anyway, as you say it would take a very short time to search emails. If there was any issue with the amount of retrospective searching, this could easily have been flagged and sent back for clarification. Under the FOI act, the body supplying the response is supposed to help formulate the request if necessary so as to identify the relevant material. Clearly this would not apply in Barnet where FOIs are seen as something to obstruct rather than to facilitate. The fact that five months have passed before supplying this answer tells you all you need to know about the prevailing attitude. And this is not a single example: another to follow shortly.

Mrs Angry said...

oops sorry baarnett, pub'd in error ... usual incompetence ...