Look - Mrs Angry has received a nice letter from Mr Andrew Travers, the long term 'interim' deputy Chief Executive and Chief Finance officer of the London Borough of Broken Barnet:
Andrew Travers: £1,000 a day - value for money?
Dear Mrs Angry
I refer to your email communications to Mr Hooton dated 25th July 2012.
I confirm that the Council, in reviewing the documentation, took account of the decision in the case of Veolia and carried out the necessary, balancing exercise. Having done so, the Council arrived at the view that, in the circumstances, the public interest in the maintenance of valuable commercially confidential information outweighed the public interest in transparency.
With regard to inspection of original documentation, I must take issue with your view that original documents must be provided for inspection: there is nothing in s15 of the 1998 Act which expressly provides that the original of the document, as opposed to a copy, must be provided. The fact that provision is made for an inspecting interested party to take a copy away with them does not of itself mean that the document so inspected must itself be an original.
With respect to redaction of information which identifies a particular individual or enables a particular individual to be identified, the redaction was carried out in accordance with the Data Protection Act 1998 and the Council’s Redactions Policy. In addition, the auditor has confirmed that information relating to individuals working for suppliers should not be disclosed.
So far as personal information about members of staff is concerned, redaction has been carried out in accordance with the Data Protection Act 1998 and the Council’s Redactions Policy.
The Council does not accept that it acted unlawfully in carrying out the balancing act set out in the case of Veolia and in concluding that the information should, indeed, be redacted.
Finally, I would reiterate that:
1. protection is afforded to the public interest by the auditor’s right to access the documents; and
2. the Council fully appreciates the importance of the role played by electors in assisting the auditor in his audit and has no intention of obstructing you and/or any other resident from viewing the accounts, in accordance with the rights and subject to the reservations set out in 15(3), (3A) and (4).
Deputy Chief Executive
Mrs Angry has replied:
Dear Mr Travers
Thank you for your reply, which made me laugh quite a lot.
Please send me a full copy of the council's Redaction Policy - unredacted, if possible.
Your answer is in fact rather naughty as it implies that you consulted the auditor in regard to a full consideration of the balancing act between disclosure and the public interest before our visit, when in fact, as Mr Mustard was told by Mr Hughes himself, his advice was sought after the event, and was anyway limited to approving only personal information - which was not something in which we had any interest.
I note your observation in regard to the rule that 'information relating to individuals working for suppliers should not be disclosed'.
Am I right in thinking that this definition therefore includes you and a large number of longterm 'interim' consultant colleagues paid either directly into your own private companies, or via an agency such as Hays or Penna?
If this is the case, please explain how information such as contractual arrangements (just supposing there are any) being removed from public scrutiny enables residents to ensure that such off payroll employment offers value for money for the taxpayers of the borough?
I note also that you do not refer to the question of alleged 'commercial sensitivity', which was the only reason given to us for the redactions at the time of the visit.
This was a ludicrous excuse, as much of the detail redacted was clearly not in any way definable as commercial information, and in one case the company had clearly expressed that there was no requirement to exempt any information on this basis. This was a company in receipt of millions of pounds of tax payers' money, and it is a perfectly reasonable expectation that we should have the right to know how and why so much of our money is being diverted in their direction.
Last year Mr Reasonable was able to see all such information unredacted in order to raise issues with the district auditor, as should be the case.
The only difference this year is that in the intervening period we have exposed a widespread culture of incompetence in the procurement and contractual processes of the authority, an issue which was clearly in the public interest to investigate. Preventing further examination of the accounts would enable us to continue to audit the council's actions in this area, and clearly the authority is deliberately obstructing us from doing so for this very reason.
The real purpose of the right to inspect accounts is in order to do just exactly what Mr Pickles says we armchair auditors must do, keep a beady eye on the financial administration of our own local authorities, and exert our right to hold you to account. Imagine if, for example, all the nasty black redactions were covering up, say, an even nastier black hole in the accounts: how would we know?
Unfortunately, in Barnet, the council appears to misunderstand, or perhaps to deliberately ignore, the need to observe the spirit of the localism agenda, and its principles of transparency and accountabilty. One might speculate as to why that is the case, but it most certainly does not in any form enable the democratic process or empower the residents of Barnet to take a proper role in the governance of their own community.
PS: talking of value for money, I note that Barnet is yet again in the Rotten Boroughs section of Private Eye. Well done - a great read, and a real bargain at no, not £1,000 a day - only £1.50 a fortnight.
Do rush out and buy a copy.
Lord Gnome: £1.50 a fortnight - value for money.