3 April 2015

Meeting, what meeting?

As per usual for Barnet, the council, in this case in the form of the Chief Executive, Andrew "Black Hole" Travers, are quick to trumpet what they see as good news but don't seem prepared to engage on twitter when challenged and thus do themselves more harm than good. Ignoring bad news doesn't mean it didn't happen.

Mr Mustard looked at the link from the cabinet office, here, and couldn't find what the requirements were to be crowned as an open data champion, so he has concluded that there weren't any, except possibly a council telling Francis Maude how fabulously open they were. It rather sticks in the craw when it is discovered that Your Choice (Barnet) Ltd, the ultimate ownership of which is with Barnet Council, held a secret board meeting, on 16 January 2014.

On 1 July 14, Mr Mustard made the following request:

Dear Sirs

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

Yours faithfully

(^ this will be blogged about at a later date)

and the response he received on 24 July 2014 was as follows:

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 on earth being told nothing at all could be considered to be useful, Mr Mustard has no idea.

Mr Mustard asked Barnet Group for a review on 14 August, viz:

Please carry out a review as I do not accept that wholly council owned companies can have meetings that are so secret.

The result of the review, received on 3 September 14 was as follows:

Mr Mustard duly filed a complaint with the Information Commissioner on 1 October.

It took until 6 March 15 to get a decision and here is the relevant section:

Mr Mustard thought that with the passage of time these negotiations would be over. The ICO didn't know as they only consider the matter as at the date of the original request which was, by then 9 months old. He enquired of the Barnet Group if the information could now be released as presumably the negotiations, with Unison, had concluded some 15 months after the board meeting.

This is what they said, as of yesterday.

I would like to advise that the issue is still ongoing and therefore we are unable to release the information.

Bluntly, Mr Mustard does not believe that Unison representatives are dilly-dallying or shilly-shallying in negotiations with Your Choice and/or the Barnet Group as his experience has been they strive to be heard at every opportunity and often seem to meet a wall of silence.

What Mr Mustard does know is that their members have recently been on strike because of a 9.5% pay cut imposed on Your Choice workers. No delicate negotiations ongoing there, just a brutal pay cut.

If Barnet Council are to wear an Open Data crown, it should be this one.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

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