Liverpool – The spiritual home of North Korea?

LpoolTH

A Town Hall of which Kim Jong-Un would be proud!

Readers of my blog may recall that last November I complained to the Information Commissioner that Liverpool Council was, by its own admission failing by a wide margin to return FOI requests within the legal deadline. They Information Commissioner’s Office responded that they could not investigate a general case like this and could not investigate a specific request from me because I had no outstanding FOI myself. I now have!!

In November I wrote to a senior officer of the council relating to our continuing dispute about the sale of part of Calderstones Park. As part of that letter I asked for some information about e-mails and letters between the Officers and members of the Council, and Redrow and other players in the proposed redevelopment of the land. I said that if the information was not forthcoming my request should be treated as an FOI.

On the 16th December I was informed by that officer that the information request would be treated as an FOI. Two weeks ago, as part of an ongoing discussion with the council about Calderstones Park which I will talk more about in a few days, the officer said they would chase up the considerably outstanding FOI. To date I have not received the information I asked for almost 3 months after I asked for it and 2 months since I made it into an FOI.

This of course begs three questions:

1. Why does a councillor have to get information from the council by way of an FOI?
2. Why do officers of the council not respond to an FOI request within the required time period especially when the request is forwarded to them by a senior officer who has then chased up a reply?
3. What is it that council is trying to keep from me, the people I represent, the people who use the Park and the people of Liverpool generally?

Liverpool Councils openness and transparency and fails to conform to key laws which relate to openness and transparency. I append the letter that I have sent to the Information Commissioner and await not only a reply from him but also eventually the information that I have asked for from the Council.

And pigs might fly!

The letter to the ICO

Cllr Richard Kemp CBE,
16, Dovedale Road,
Liverpool L18 1DW
07885 626913
Richardkemp68@yahoo.co.uk

Christopher Graham Esq.,
Information Commissioner,
Wycliffe House Water Lane,
Wilmslow
Cheshire SK9 5AF

2nd February 2016

Dear Chris,
Re: Liverpool City Council
On 10th November last year I sent you the following letter. I was surprised to get a response from you that your office does not investigate generic complaints of none-compliance but only specific ones. It could therefore take my complaint no further because I had no FOI complaints outstanding so was not a personal complainant.

Dear Commissioner,

Re: Liverpool Council and FOIs

I am writing to you to suggest that you should undertake a review into the way that Liverpool City Council deals with FOI complaints.
I enclose two documents. The first is from a senior officer of the council complaining about my blog on FOIs which is the second document attached.
You will see that the officer makes no specific complaints although they are threatening unspecified actions against me. This is hardly surprising as it was this officer’s department that supplied me with the information on which I based my conclusions.
Frankly I have no idea how the Council is behaving and delivering compared with other councils or parts of the public sector. I am however, convinced that the council is behaving poorly and that it deals with the letter and not the spirit of the FOI laws. The fact is, as admitted by the council, that it only gets responses to FOIs in 80%+ of the questions raised with it.
You will note also the rise in FOIs which has corresponded to the reduction in proper questioning and debate through other parts of what is an abnormal democratic process.
I am asking you to review the actions of the council as a whole in this matter. Should you do so I can assure you that there are a plethora of Liverpool citizens who would be prepared to tell you how difficult it has been to get answers from the council and how poor some of those answers have been.
I look forward to hearing from you.
Yours sincerely,
Cllr Richard Kemp CBE
Leader, Liverpool Liberal Democrats

I now have a specific complaint which I am asking you to look at and then review the inability of your office to deal with my complaint of November in the light of this request.
I append a copy of a letter from Liverpool’s City Solicitor in which she confirmed that information that I had asked for in relation to Calderstones Park and the Harthill Estate would be dealt with as an FOI request from that date (16th December). To be sure that this would happen I also sent a letter to the council employee who leads on FOI requests on that date.
The matter is a particularly sensitive one in that I am currently being accused by the Council of not accurately representing a decision that they have made regarding the sale of part of Calderstones Park. To enable me to defend myself properly against what is an absurd allegation I have asked for information from the council about all correspondence between the council, politicians and officers with the prosed developers of the land and other identified partners.
As of today’s date I have not received this information which is in clear breach of FOI timescales. Although I have not raised this as an FOI item I have also yet to receive a copy of the plan of the land take for the partial sell off which I have been seeking for 2 months.
I would be grateful if you would look into this matter as this is not only an important issue for me but the failure of the Council to respond to FOIs.
I look forward to hearing from you.
Yours sincerely,

Cllr Richard Kemp CBE,
Leader, Liverpool Liberal Democrats

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About richardkemp

Leader of the Liberal Democrats in Liverpool. UK representative on UCLG Finance Committee, Executive Bureau and World Council. Deputy Chair and Lib Dem Spokesperon on the LGA Community Wellbeing Board. Married to the lovely Cllr Erica Kemp CBE with three children and three grandchildren.
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One Response to Liverpool – The spiritual home of North Korea?

  1. Catherine says:

    Hi Richard,
    On your question 2 – why they don’t respond in time – the answer is because these days they appear to have decided that they just won’t, and never mind what the law says (presumably because this cavalier approach has worked in the past). This is no exaggeration. It’s what they actually say. In writing.
    As you may have seen, I have two outstanding FOI requests that have recently been accepted by the ICO as complaints. One of these was a request for emails (about the other). In its rejection of this request, they said this:
    “Officers within the City Council ….. should not be expected to be subject to such levels of public scrutiny of their roles and performance and the City Council considers this type of request to be bordering upon an abuse of the Freedom of Information Act 2000”,
    “it cannot be perceived to be in the public interest for officers to stop the work they are paid to do in order to collate emails to specific officers purely for the purposes of scrutiny under the Freedom of Information Act 2000”, and
    “If all officers of the City Council were to be subject to this level of scrutiny in the future there would be a tangible adverse effect upon both their individual and departmental performance”

    When I requested an internal review, pointing out that the law required them to do precisely that (within reasonable time and resource limits), they did nothing for so long that the Information Commissioner’s Office had to write and tell them to get on with it, and when the review finally arrived (6 weeks late), it just repeated these appalling assertions, stating this:
    “It is the opinion of the City Council that such requests require officers to complete tasks, additional to their routine duties, which are specifically designed to achieve little more than satisfy the curiosity of a requestor. It cannot be in either the City Council’s or the tax-payer’s best interest for officers to stop the work for which they are paid in order to prove to a member of the public that their individual request was completed, in the eyes of the requestor, correctly.
    Members of the public do not oversee the conduct of the City Council and the Freedom of Information Act 2000 is not designed in order to enable this to happen.
    …. we will not instruct the relevant officers to stop what they’re doing in order to provide emails they may have sent when the answers sought by a request have already been provided.” (although the answers have still not been provided, in reality)

    I suspect they are applying a similar rationale to your requests – so not only do simple members of the public “not oversee” the conduct of the Council, elected members are do not seem to do this either (although I don’t entirely understand what they mean by oversee). So, basically, they believe that if they satisfy their bosses they do not have to account for their actions to anyone else at all (because, as you have pointed out, there is no proper scrutiny of anything, these days). And can ignore the bits of the law that they don’t like. This utter claptrap is on whatdotheyknow for all the world to see – as are other desperately stupid and unprofessional responses, including the several attempts, before Christmas, to make people submit details of their ID before processing their FOI requests – something else that is not exactly lawful.

    The ICO will soon start formally investigating the handling of both requests (the first for the full KPMG report, submitted 6 months ago, and the second, the one for the emails, in October, after receiving a weird and incomplete response which truly has to be seen to be believed).They are already involved, having written to the council about both requests at the end of November, recommending that they complete the reviews within 20 working days. Over two months later they have still not produced an internal review of the initial request (now 6 months old). Things really have got a lot worse in the last year – particularly regarding requests for what the Council perceives to be sensitive information (like your request), and as a result they are not handling them properly, delaying them, not applying proper exemptions, not conducting proper public interest tests, etc. etc. You may remember that in its Decision Notice last August, ordering the council to release the details of the work that KPMG was paid £170,000 to do (Julian Todd’s request on whatdotheyknow), the ICO criticised the handling of the request and actually suggested that staff might need training. How diplomatic.
    But they do have other remedies, and I hope that your difficulties will finally decide them to do something to change things.

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