Friday 4 November 2011

Yes, another Friday joke: transparency in Broken Barnet

Transparency in Broken Barnet

Oh dear me.

Do you remember Mrs Angry's recent Freedom of Information request in regard to the associations between our senior council officers and the four companies short listed for the tender process of the huge outsourcing packages of council services? Last Friday's joke was the response to her request:

I write with the Council’s response to your request received on 30 September 2011 for the following information:

Please give all details of any senior officers currently employed by or acting as consultants to the London Borough of Barnet who have accepted hospitality from, or attended any event or training course organised by, the following companies:

HCL Axon

In your email of 3 October 2011, you confirmed that you wanted the information for all persons listed in the corporate management chart that is- the Chief Executive, Directors and Deputy Directors.

We have processed this request under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA).


I can confirm that the council holds the following information which falls within the scope of your request:

  1. The Chief Executive - Mr Walkley visited the British Telecoms Research Labs in Suffolk in January 2010. During the visit, he had a buffet lunch and coffee. Mr Walkley was accompanied by Mr Travers, Mr. Grice and Mr. Palmer who also had lunch and coffee.

  1. Mr. Evans, Assistant Director for Strategy and Policy attended a networking event for London councils in September 2011. This event was organised by Capita Consulting.

If you recall, Mrs Angry was rather cross to receive this response because she already knew of at least two other events attended by Nick Walkley, the Chief Executive, which had not been included: as she wrote last Friday:

"Barnet's CEO Mr Nick Walkley is listed as a participant in an event hosted by the Localis thinktank, in conjunction with Capita Symonds: 'Is efficiency enough?' which took place in Birmingham on the 13th September.

Mr Walkley is also listed as a speaker at Capita's 4th national conference 'Improvement and Efficiency in the Public Sector' in London on 21st January 2010.

Has this been omitted because someone thinks Capita Symonds is absolutely nothing to do with Capita? Well, according to Capita Symonds' website:

Capita Symonds is a wholly owned division of The Capita Group Plc. "

Mrs Angry wrote back, twice, this week to query the response and has today been sent the following and frankly rather insulting explanation:

Dear Mrs Angry,

I write in response to your email below. I can confirm that Mr. Walkley did attend the events you referred to, however they were not included in the FOI request because they were outside the scope of your request.

Mr. Walkley attended the Localis hosted roundtable on 29 June 2011, at their invitation, with Clive Betts MP at the LGA Conference. This event was not included as it was organised by Localis. It was an invite only and part of the LGA fringe programme. Mr. Walkley did not stay for the whole event but did have coffee and a sandwich.

Mr. Walkley spoke at the ‘Efficiency and Improvement’ Conference in January 2010. This event was not included as the search was taken to mean ‘events at which Mr. Walkley had been the recipient of training or hospitality’. Mr. Walkley received no fee or expenses for the conference and did not stay for other conference sessions.

It is worth noting, for clarity, that Mr. Walkley has attended conferences and events organised by The Guardian, The Local Government Association, The Local Government Chronicle, The Municipal Journal and the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives. At various times all of these organisations, their awards, conferences and events have been sponsored by some or all of the organisations you listed in your request.

I hope you find this clarification sufficient. If you are not satisfied with the Council’s response or with the way your request was handled you have a right to request an internal review as advised in my email of 27 October, 2011.

Attention, Chief Executive of the London Borough of Broken Barnet, Mr Nicholas Walkley: what part of, and I quote: "ATTENDED ANY EVENT ... ORGANISED BY" do you not understand?

Oh, and as the website details for the first Capita event clearly explains

13 September 2011

A report on the recent ‘Is Efficiency Enough?’ roundtable event hosted by Localis - an independent think tank dedicated to issues relating to local government and localism - in conjunction with Capita Symonds at the Local Government Group conference in Birmingham…

Localis in conjunction with Capita ... couldn't be much clearer, could it? And as it happens, I would like the details of those other events and by whom they were sponsored ... frankly I think it is pretty clear that the response to my FOI request is deliberately evasive, and this is completely unacceptable. It would be unacceptable at any time, but right now, when Barnet is in the process of choosing private sector companies to take a billion pounds worth of business from us, and senior officers of this council have had associations, no matter how innocent, with some of these companies, it is clearly in the public interest, and in the interest of transparency and probity in public office, that all such associations be openly registered and open to public scrutiny.

Is the sort of greater transparency and accountability you had in mind, Eric, in your vision of localism? Not really working out, here in Broken Barnet, is it?

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