12 August 2014

Top Secret Board Meetings at Barnet Homes & Your Choice

Regular readers will recall the mantra of the Chief Operating Officer of Barnet Council that the default position of the council is to be open and transparent a phrase that gets thrust back at him every time the council fail to reveal or partially reveal something of interest. If a council was completely open and transparent there would be no need for bloggers to root around for information and Barnet is a hotbed of bloggers (and activists) which tells you all you need to know about the actual transparency achieved, or not, by the council.

Barnet Council owns 100% of the Barnet Group, an umbrella body created to hold shareholdings on its behalf in Barnet Homes (who "manage" all of the council's social housing stock) and Your Choice (a misnomer of a company) for providing vital social care and which thinks the best way to balance its is to cut the pay of its not highly paid workforce by originally 9.5% and now 8.31% (both of which threatened cuts have led to ballots for strike action which have had votes in favour of 90%) rather than charge the council the actual cost of the services provided.

Anyway, whilst Mr Mustard was thrashing about their dire websites he came across two Board meetings which he hadn't seen advertised anywhere so, rarely for him nowadays, he fired off a simple Freedom of Information request in the full expectation of a refusal. Here it is with the answer which was provided in 22 calendar days (Mr Mustard told Barnet homes off for always replying on working day 20 in the past and they have decided not to delay this time)

Good afternoon Mr Mustard

Thank you for your request for information received on 2 July 2014, under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (“the Act”). I set out your request and Barnet Homes’ response as follows:

Please provide the following details for the Board Meetings of 18 December 13 (Barnet Homes) and 16 January 14 (Your Choice)

- the email or other notice in which notice invited persons were notified of the meetings
- names of persons invited
- any notice given to the public
- the agendas
- the minutes

The meetings held on 18 December 2013 and 16 January 2014 were both confidential meetings and therefore only the Board Members and appropriate officers were invited. In view of the fact that they were confidential meetings we did not issue any notices and there are no agendas or minutes available for public release.

The items discussed are exempt from publication under categories 2 and 3 of Schedule 12A of the Local Government Act 1972. This is because the report refers to information that is likely to reveal the identity of an individual and/or Information relating to the financial or business affairs of any particular person.

In addition, the information about this meeting is withheld because it is considered that the absolute exemption under Section 40 (2) of the FOI Act applies to it.

In doing so, Barnet Homes is relying on the absolute exemption set out in section 40 (2) of the Act in regards to information that constitute personal data. We have applied the exemption because of the condition set out in Section 40(3)(a)(i) of the Act concerning data protection principles as stated in the Data Protection Act 1998.

I hope you find the information above useful.

How the Dickens could a lack of information be useful?

Mr Mustard notes the complete failure to issue any public notices of the upcoming meetings (these are private companies although ultimately council owned). Should the position have been that the meetings were advertised, the public could have attended and then as soon as the meeting opened it went into private session and the public were excluded?

Should the agenda have been published with the substance of the item to be discussed written without any personal data within it?

Should the names of the actual Board members who were invited have been released? The response says "the Board Members" but was the whole Board invited? how do we know?

Shouldn't the names of senior officers who attended be released?

Shouldn't there still be minutes showing the start and finish times, the matters discussed (without personal data) & any votes or decisions taken?

Should councils be allowed to hide things by the expedient of having wholly owned private companies?

Should I ask for a review or let the matter rest? Would suitable experts please comment below.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard


  1. Simply appalling: yet again another Barnet attempt to defy the duty to show regard for transparency and accountability. You are right to expect any personal references on the agenda to be withheld for a final, closed session of meetings, but to exclude all public attendance is not acceptable and must be challenged.

  2. Looks somewhat criminal to me, not exactly democratic and certainly not a case of 'doing the right thing'. It reminds me of Westminster council, when led by the ghastly Shirley Porter, and their 'Building Stable Communities' policy.

    I'd dig in there, get the drains up!


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