Saturday, 1 October 2011

Broken Barnet: "a culture of obsessive secrecy" says former Tory chair

paint it black: transparency in Broken Barnet

Barnet bloggers have been given a copy of the following letter sent yesterday to Barnet Tory leader, Councillor Richard Cornelius, by David Miller, the former daddy of all Barnet bloggers, known as 'Don't Call Me Dave' - oh, and he is also the former chairman of the Chipping Barnet Conservative Association:

An open letter to Cllr Richard Cornelius, Barnet Council Leader

Dear Richard

I was extremely concerned to read in the local media that Cllr Daniel Thomas claimed that it cost the council £40,000 to respond to FOI requests from just one individual - reportedly the blogger known as Mr Mustard. Unless the council is forced to pay staff overtime in processing such requests, it is patently obvious that there is no marginal cost to taxpayers whatsoever and it is completely dishonest to suggest otherwise. Staff responding to FOI requests are merely using the time for which they are already being paid.

You should be aware that with regard to trying to embarrass members of the public exercising their legal rights, Cllr Thomas has form. In November 2008, he asked Mike Freer a clearly planted question which alleged that I had made the most FOI requests in the preceding 6 months. The stated figure of 29 requests was demonstrably incorrect and, as the Information Commissioner subsequently confirmed following my complaint, Barnet Council had no legal right to publish my name in this report.

The council nonetheless refused to redact my details arguing that the publication of my name did not identify me personally, as prohibited by law. Rather, they claimed that the report referred to all David Millers in the Borough. Somebody in the council was actually paid to write this errant nonsense and this should be of greater concern to you than the cost of complying with an Act of Parliament.

You will recall that when the Conservatives won control of the Council in 2002, the then leader made a speech in which he promised “an open and honest” Administration. Sadly, the opposite has proven true. There is a culture of obsessive secrecy which permeates through every fibre of the council’s being. Barnet is seemingly more concerned with spending money on lawyers in an attempt to keep secret that which should be public, than in allowing greater access to information in accordance with official Conservative policy.

The Information Commissioner’s guidelines state that the council’s default position should be to publish all information without the requirement of being asked. If the council adhered to these guidelines, it would obviate the need for most of the FOI requests submitted. Obviously certain categories of information must, by law, remain confidential but far too much is kept secret on spurious grounds. One such reason often cited is commercial sensitivity. It may have escaped your notice, but the council is not a commercial organisation. It is a public body whose sole raison d’ĂȘtre is to serve the public. Everything the council does is in our name and on our behalf. We have an absolute right to know what you are doing at all times.

It clearly grates on senior councillors and officers that members of the public are rather adept at exposing failures in the council’s processes, but an enlightened authority should thank residents for identifying their shortcomings, rather than indulge in petty obfuscation and vilification.

If any councillors are unhappy with the concept of public scrutiny of the decision making process, they are, of course, free to stand down from public office. It is called public for a reason.

Kind regards


David Miller comes from a political background: a Tory background. His mother is Lady Miller, the Conservative peer. His experience as the chairman of a former local Conservative Association gives him every right to speak for the mainstream, ordinary, decent party member, the voter who has been totally alienated from the mutant brand of Conservatism that has developed here in Broken Barnet, and the bullying, self serving cabal which has taken over control of the party and the administration of this borough.

The fact that a man like Mr Miller has been driven from the party, and to writing about the antics of his former colleagues with such contempt tells you all you need to know about the state of affairs here in Barnet. On the eve of the Tory conference, what better time for a letter like this, eh, Mr Pickles?

The Tory group and leadership here in Broken Barnet are a profound and constant source of embarrassment for the Conservative party in government. Mrs Angry understands that at Westminster, one particularly high profile Barnet rentagob is viewed with derision and utter contempt by leading Tory politicians. And of course we all know what the long suffering Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government thinks of this troublesome administration. And here they are, just before the conference, making fools of themselves once more. They don't get it, of course, being too ineffably stupid, and most of them are so politically inept they will be genuinely surprised at the next election when they lose their seats.

Mr Miller has said everything than needs to be said about the obsessive attempts by the Tory council to control and restrict access to information which should already be in the public domain.
The fact that wet behind the ears boy councillor Daniel Thomas has made such an idiotic attempt to discredit a Barnet blogger simply underlines how frightened the Tory Cabinet is of the success we have had in uncovering their grubby little secrets. We won't be intimidated by their bullying and, in the interests of transparency and accountability, will continue to monitor their performance, and to provide the process of scrutiny that Mr Pickles so admires.

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