26 January 2012

Staff really should be given the whole picture


If council staff are only given half the picture you can't be surprised when they come a cropper on something. Here is a message from the council intranet sent by the Internal Communications Manager. Mr Mustard presumes that councillors also read the intranet but isn't sure of this. Maybe one of them will tell him. 

Additions in red are by Mr Mustard and Mr Reasonable weighs in at the end.

Transparency Project set to open up council data
Friday, 09 December 2011 12:00 Schroder, Johnathan

A Transparency Project has been initiated, led by Maryellen Salter, Assistant Director of Finance, Audit and Risk Management, to examine not only the data which the council releases, but also the quality of that data and how users can engage with it in a meaningful way. It isn't so much initiation as a response to a government requirement. Why spin this?
This work is being undertaken in line with the Government’s transparency agenda. The focus is to remove secrecy and extend transparency within the public sector, enabling citizens to hold government and public services to account. Whilst public sector transparency is obligatory, the government also hopes that openness of data will generate social and economic growth through the use of that data, as well as allowing the public to see how their money is being spent. As well as how it is mis-spent ( MetPro and RM Countryside Services Ltd )

With this in mind, the council’s Transparency Project is addressing the data needs of citizens by increasing the data available, as well as its accessibility and quality. This will include:

- reviewing all of the council's data with a presumption of publication unless there is a good reason not to exactly what Mr Mustard asked for - define "good reason"
- a new, more accessible internet site will be rolled out over the next few months, with a vastly improved search function good, as the existing search function is useless
- a decision that members of the public may film committee meetings they already can!
- the procurement of a new IT system for the handling of Freedom of Information (FOI) requests. It is envisaged that the new system will auto-publish all FOI responses to the new website many are already on the whatdotheyknow website
- FOI requests are being analysed to highlight areas of public interest, so focus can be placed on releasing more information in areas of high demand this contradicts the presumption point above
- our quarter one performance data was recently published in machine-readable format for the first time.

In September 2011, the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) released “The Code for Recommended Practice for Transparency in Local Government”. Maryellen Salter said: “Much of the work that we had been progressing within the Transparency Project aligned to the principles included within the document, especially in respect of the release of data being demand led. However, there were a number of new minimum requirements that we should be meeting and work is underway to publish this information." The start of the article infers that the Project has only recently started but Mary-Ellen talks about it like it has been going on for ages. Why not use dates? "We should be meeting" and aren't

The new Transparency Code requirements are:
- senior employee salaries (salaries over £58,200), names, job descriptions, responsibilities, budgets and numbers of staff
- an organisational chart of the staff structure of the local authority including salary bands and details of currently vacant posts this will be easier once 70% of staff are outsourced
- the ‘pay multiple’ – the ratio between the highest paid salary and the median average salary of the whole of the authority’s workforce the answer is the Chief Exec earns almost 7 times the person on the median ( middle ) salary
- grants to the voluntary community and social enterprise sector should be clearly itemised and listed
- the location of public land and building assets that is normally recorded on asset registers. The ones that have not been sold off anyway

The Information Governance Council (IGC) ( how many talking shops are there at Barnet Council? ) oversees this work, and will continue to find ways in which to facilitate open government. Suggestions from staff are always welcome, and can be made to redacted.

and now Mr Reasonable weighs in

Oh dear perhaps there has been a data entry error when copying what the Communities Department actually said onto this email. I have set out below what they missed:

· Expenditure over £500, (including costs, supplier and transaction information). Any sole trader or body acting in a business capacity in receipt of payments of at least £500 of public money should expect such payments to be transparent. (not currently compliant)

· Councillor allowances and expenses (not yet published for last year)

· Copies of contracts and tenders to businesses and to the voluntary community and social enterprise sector (not published)

· Policies, performance, external audits and key inspections and key indicators on the authorities’ fiscal and financial position (not published in full)

Mr Schroder seems a bit remiss.

Kind regards

Mr Reasonable


Yours frugally

Mr Mustard


  1. Wery good. It is most amusing to see the LBB tie itself in knots trying to avoid the need to comply with Pickle's transparency agenda, whilst at the same time trying to appear as if they are not.

    'Good Reason' not to publish is definable as anything politically sensitive,of course, as in the FOIs which are routinely obstructed or delayed.

  2. Er, seem to have come over a bit Dickensian: wery good/ very good, Mr Copperfield.

  3. “Mr Mustard's meaning simply is, that whatever Mrs Angry has tried to do in life, she has tried with all her heart to do well; that whatever she has devoted herself to, she has devoted herself to completely; that in great aims and in small, she has always been thoroughly in earnest.”


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.