29 September 2011

FOI - Barnet Council nonsense

Mr Mustard is engaged on important business at the moment and hasn't got time to blog but the bloggers early warning system alerted him to some patent nonsense put out by Cllr Thomas today which you can read here and this quick blog was necessary.

Firstly the sum of £40,000 has not been spent answering FOI questions. £nil has been spent. All  FOI questions are answered by staff in the normal course of their work. There are over 3,000 staff employed by the council so answering one question a day between them is hardly going to stop normal work.  No extra staff have been employed.
There are 462 managers at the council so it isn't even one question each in 6 months. That isn't a severe case of overwork now is it?

The council should be delighted that residents want to know more about the workings of the council.

Mr Mustard can't speak for the other bloggers but he can say that many of his questions are very simple such as how much the cost of room rental was for the last 4 residents forums. So someone simply has to look up a total of 12 figures in the accounts. The results will surprise you but that is a story for another day. If each figure took more than a minute to look up that would be the result of incompetence. Cllr Thomas has relied on an average response time of 9 hours for each and every request which is not valid for Mr Mustard's requests. 

Why are requests necessary? Well partly because the information that Barnet Council publishes is inaccurate. Try and find payments to the Chief Financial Officer himself made via his Limited company Halliford Associates Ltd in this financial year and there seems, from memory, to be only one payment of £1,000 which is odd as he will have been drawing £20,000 most months.

The payments that are made have no detail which enable one to judge if they are sensible spending or not and hence FOI questions are necessary.

It is known that only 80% of contracts are in place and this inevitably leads to questions.

The attitude of Barnet Council to answering questions is a secretive one. Mr Mustard asked for a copy of the May Gurney contract for recycling. It came with so many passages blocked out that it was next to useless and will end up being the subject of an appeal to the Information Commissioner. Hackney Council, on the other hand, sent the entire contract without a single figure or  word crossed out. Is that related to the fact that they negotiated a much better deal?

One Barnet is not transparent. There is no need to carry out a survey. When Barnet Council locked out workers who wanted to work as they only planned to strike later that day the workers didn't waste their time, they toured Barnet spreading the message. It turned out that residents who had heard of One Barnet were rarer than hens' teeth. Mr Mustard hadn't heard of One Barnet until he became interested in the badly run affairs of the council this year. 

Cllr Thomas seems to have forgotten that it is the law that says requests for Freedom of Information requests have to be answered and so he should direct himself to central government if he would like to see the law changed.

Mr Mustard tries very hard to obey all laws and pays his taxes in full and on time. He will therefore exercise his democratic rights whenever the mood takes him.

And, dear reader, if there is anything you want to know, absolutely anything at all about Barnet Council, then send your request in to foi@barnet.gov.uk You can send in as many requests as you like if they are all different,

and if you think that Mr Mustard shouldn't send in more than a certain number of requests per week please do write and tell him at mrmustard@zoho.com 

if on the other hand you think that Cllr Thomas should stop sending press releases and get on with something useful then I am sure he would be delighted to hear from residents on this email address 

Yours frugally
Mr Mustard


  1. oh well said Mr Mustard: and carry on the good work.

  2. But why do you even need to know how much it costs to hire a room for a meeting? Seriously if that is all you have to worry about in life you are a very fortunate person!


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