1 November 2011

As transparent as a brick wall

As you know Mr Mustard searches out information of interest to readers. It made work for governance which they didn't seem to like as they sent the following email.

Dear Mr Mustard

I am writing in relation to the series of requests for information you have made to the Council under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (the FOIA).

The Council is committed to developing and improving transparency across the organisation and the volume of requests we receive under the FOIA from you suggests that there is information not currently made available that you would like to see.

We would be grateful for your suggestions of what information the Council could and should routinely make available via the website that may assist in minimising the need for information to be requested under the FOIA.

If you would like to assist, please contact the Council via foi@barnet.gov.uk. We will then consider your suggestions and keep you updated on their progress.

Kind Regards,

Standards and information Rights Team

Corporate Governance Directorate
London Borough of Barnet, North London Business Park, Oakleigh Road South, London N11 1NP

Mr Mustard didn't reply at first as he is a busy man, work to do, motorbikes to ride etc and then Cllr Thomas effectively outed him to the papers ( subject of next blog coming soon ) which made Mr Mustard decide to reply. Mr Mustard decided to research what a typical council should be publishing. You will find it on page 6 in the below window and you can download the document from the Communities website here.

Code of Practice on Data Transparency for Local Authorities

Here is the text of what Mr Mustard has today sent to the council:

Dear Sirt Team

Thank you for your email of 2 June 2011.


If you had studied my requests for a few minutes you could have identified that they were quite wide ranging and come to two conclusions :- 

1 - that the lists of spending over £500 are inadequate as they do not give more than an inkling of exactly what the money was spent on ( as an aside they are inaccurate - how can they contain negative numbers ? and incomplete - where have the £1,000 a day payments of Andrew Travers / Halliford Associates Ltd gone to ? and also contain duplications, Mr Reasonable identified one of over £250,000 ). They are not informative in that they do not say what the money was spent on e.g. fireworks at the Finchley Carnival.

2 - that I am interested in many different topics.

Rather than have me design a publication scheme for the council ( 90+ people in Governance, many of them handsomely paid, have more time for this than a blogger in his limited spare time ) I have an alternative suggestion would would allow Barnet for once to have some positive publicity rather than negative.

My suggestion is that you start by deciding to publish everything ( every tender, every order, every contract, every job description, the salary scale of every job, every report received, the minutes to every committee, the minutes to every meeting ) and then hold back those documents that contain obviously personal data ( these will mostly be in Adult Social Care & Children's directorates ).

My FOI requests would then drop to virtually zero. 


Of course, it isn't me who wants information about local councils to be out in the open, it comes from the very top of Government. 

I have spent a minute or two looking at what the Department for Communities & Local Government expects and that is set out in the Code of Recommended practice for Local Authorities on Data Transparency. I am sure you must have a copy but to be helpful I attach one for you. 

If you look at paragraph 12 on page 6 there is a list of the minimum data to be published. Barnet Council is a bit behind with this list and I think that you ought to try and make the The Right Honourable Eric Pickles MP happy before worrying about me. 

For example, the over £500 lists are incomplete and inaccurate. The S151 Finance Officer is a contractor on £1,000 a day and yet has not appeared on the lists since April 2011. I suspect that Barnet Council are fiddling with the lists. 

The senior employees data is incomplete. I was refused a list of the 137 staff earning over £70,000. A reworded request will now be submitted.

The organisational chart is only about 20 officers which does not give a clear picture of staffing and vacant posts.

You are still trying to secure missing contracts following the "procurement action plan" which had to be put in place after over £1m was paid to MetPro without a contract.

It would seem that there is plenty for the council to be getting on with rather than telling the press that one blogger has cost them £40,000 in 6 months, a statement which was not true.

The best possible reply that you could make to this email would be to start improving the quantity and quality of the published data.

Yours sincerely

Mr Mustard

We will have to wait and see what happens next. It may be a long wait?

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard


  1. I saw recently that staff shortages / changes in the FoI@barnet.gov.uk office have "led to delays".

    Is that because staff join the council in these days of austerity full of enthusiasm to do a good job for the public, only to realize what a pitiful, incompetent, overpaid, untalented senior management team and political leadership the council has?

  2. and secretive, I meant to say secretive.


I now moderate comments in the light of the Delfi case. Due to the current high incidence of spam I have had to turn word verification on.