Posted by: westlancashirerecord | April 16, 2017

Rotten Boroughs Latest

At a time when Freedom of Information (FoI) is under attack and noting that former Prime Minister Tony Blair once described the FoI Act as his “worst mistake”, Private Eye editor Ian Hislop said that half the stories in Private Eye’s Rotten Boroughs section come from FoI requests. “It takes an enormous amount of boring people to death really to get this stuff out, but when it comes it is incredibly good” he said. “We incessantly use Freedom of Information requests, a lot of our best stories have come from that”.

West Lancashire Borough Council tells us that “If you are making a request for information that is not readily available or through this website, then you may be charged a fee. FOI requests which will cost less than £450 to answer will be free of charge (please note: we may charge for the cost of postage, photocopying and so on). The £450 cost is based on a calculation of time at £25 per hour of officer time”. Perhaps a FoI request might explain which officer receives £25 an hour, or about £50,000 a year just to answer FoIs?

Parish politics can be prone to FoI cock-ups, especially when replies aren’t truthful. FoI cases can even reach the Freedom of Information Commissioner and this happened a few years ago in Great Chart  in Kent when six individuals opposing a greenbelt development were elected to the parish council only to be told by the Parish Clerk their manifesto commitments would restrict their ability to vote on the development matter, and they might even be fined if they voted when they ought not to. The six didn’t take up their seats after this threat. The then FoI Commissioner refused to countenance a request for correspondence between councils to be revealed under S36 of the act.

But an appeal to the First Tier Tribunal soon reversed that decision. “Officers of the parish and borough councils should have known of the legal obligations of transparency and that S36 was not an absolute exemption”. The purpose of S36 was not to prevent embarrassment! And so James Scott v ICOEA/2012/0219 is case law. You can read the summary here  [click to read] and do especially enjoy the comment within it that “students of local democracy may be permitted a wry smile at this point”.

What matters above all else is public interest, generally best served by independent residents free of party whips? Surely WLBC and its parish councils don’t want to appear in Private Eye Rotten Boroughs list?

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