The Freedom of Information Act 2000 was a boon to anyone wanting public access to information held by public authorities. It does this in two ways: public authorities are obliged to publish certain information about their activities; and members of the public are entitled to request information from public authorities .
The Act has never been available for all public information, in fact it lists 25 matters of Exempt Information, so what is left for the public ? Much of that may be conditional, an exemption may be applicable for which a Public Interest Panel (PIP) may sit to decide whether or not they agree the information should be released. And one undoubted misuse of public information is not to record it, hence the answer will be as follows.
Recently the WLBC Leisure Services refused to supply details of a meeting about the Beacon Park Golf Course because “The Freedom of Information Act and the Environmental Information Regulations only cover recorded information held by public authorities. The Information Commissioner’s website https://ico.org.uk/for-organisations/guide-to-freedom-of-information/receiving-a-request/ advises public authorities that before they decide that they don’t hold any recorded information, they should make sure that they have carried out adequate and properly directed searches and that they have convincing reasons for concluding that no recorded information is held. I am satisfied that the information you requested is not held.
“With regard to the practice of maintaining minuted records of meetings with Serco, I can confirm that frequent meetings and conversations take place between the Council and its numerous partners on a daily basis, which are not formally recorded in minutes. Furthermore, it is not possible, necessary or cost effective for all such conversations and meetings to be so recorded. However, where it is necessary to record minutes of a meeting this will be done and upon request (subject to the legal compliant non-disclosure) will be made available to the public.
“I reaffirm my earlier response in regard to time limits for the completion of re-profiling work. I am unable to provide this information as WLBC are currently awaiting confirmation from Serco as to how they plan to approach the re-profiling”.
Readers might ask why, in the case of a company that receives a large quantity of public money for a 15/18 year contract, it may decide not to record meetings about that public money, or the amount and whereabouts of the 23,375 loads of landfill royalties?
The recent meeting in Halsall about flooding raised another issue of FoI, inasmuch as Cllr Hodson reported “When questioned as to why the Flood Forum met in private rather that with public present and that there were no minutes of the meeting kept (quite a bit of disquiet about this, what’s the secret etc) he [Paul Blakely of LCC] went on to explain that a) the discussions were of a highly technical nature b) that there was Commercial sensitivity around certain issues, but mainly c) Data Protection as sensitive information would be aired about individual properties and their circumstances in regard to compensation/claims etc. This seemed to go a long way to reassure people that there was at least a plausible explanation for how the Flood Forums were arranged”.
I frankly found that matter of discussions “being of a highly technical nature” quite condescending, as did Gavin Rattray, Secretary of the Burscough Flooding Group who offered his thoughts on it “I would always question the sense and efficiency of allowing public bodies to meet in secret, at our expense, for our benefit and for them to keep their discussions and decisions secret afterwards. If Robert Maxwell was alive and in charge we all know he would be screaming data protection from the rooftops. Local and central government committees meet weekly in public and manage to overcome exactly the same and more issues of technicality, confidentiality and data protection. Supposed will and determination won’t overcome the secrecy and self interest of WLBC and LCC, the secrecy and profit greed of UU; and the diminished role of the EA.
“Whilst it’s good to talk, as “for turning a corner” I truly hope I’m wrong but that is impossible without a change of direction; meeting with just one desperate community before the May election is hardly that. There are many other desperate communities being ignored that need to see a change in attitude and direction, evidenced by action”.