Posted by: westlancashirerecord | October 4, 2018

If At First You Don’t Succeed, Become Vexatious

We’ve all seen the pictures of flooding in Burscough. The old adage of what can’t speak can’t lie applies to Burscough .

So, as you might expect, a complainant requested information “in relation to the Council’s agreements and other arrangements with United Utilities (UU) including copies of all communication, notes, meeting agendas and minutes of the meetings between the Council and UU, and copies of all communication, notes, meeting agendas and minutes of the meetings between the Council and Environment Agency (EA)”.

WLBC, in the matter of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA) and the Environmental Information Regulations 2004 (EIR), refused to comply with the request as “It considered it to be manifestly unreasonable under regulation 12(4)(b) of the Environmental Information Regulations (‘the EIR”)”.

Now we all know the water floods the roads , sewage, crap is in the gardens, but there is a bureaucratic format to be followed. It’s no use saying politely to bureaucrats “Please can you stop all these regular distasteful episodes that you wouldn’t accept for your own homes and gardens”, because they are oblivious to them.

Not only that, but become too persistent, too regular, too angry, to take any more manifestly bureaucratic crap, and after nearly a year, patience at WLBC has evaporated. To hell with you, the Council responded on 7 December 2017 stating that it had decided to reject the request as vexatious relying on section 14(1) of the FOIA.

Remaining dissatisfied with the response, on 2 January 2018, the complainant requested the Council to conduct an internal review.

Following an internal review the Council wrote to the complainant. It stated that the appropriate legislation in this case was the Environmental Information Regulations 2014 (EIR) rather than the FOIA. However, in substance it upheld the response to the initial request, considering it to be manifestly unreasonable under regulation 12(4)(b) of the EIR on the basis that it was vexatious.

We are approaching the crossroads, whereby your “physical crap in your garden” is real or environmental, according to how much of a level of disruption, irritation, or distress you have caused to your public authority by vexatiously asking about it!

And, to your surprise, the Council is of the view that you have shown an unreasonable persistence in your attempt to reopen issues of floods and crap, which have already been comprehensively addressed by the Council. Also it is unlikely that they will come to a shared view on many issues related to this topic. Well, if their view is “so what”, who do they think shares it with them?

The Council bureaucrats claim that “such voluminous amounts of correspondence have caused (and continue to cause) a disproportionate level of disruption to the Council and the complainant’s actions appear to be an improper use of the formal procedure (bureaucracy) which the FOIA and the EIR allow for”.

Their claim succeeds as “The Commissioner agrees with the Council that the complainant’s requests have reached the point where a reasonable person would conclude they are vexatious and manifestly unreasonable”. The Commissioner also considers that, in general, the public interest is served through transparency and accountability of the work and dealings of the elected bodies, especially in situations where certain activities of a public authority have a direct impact on the lives of its constituents.

The moral of this story is that despite crap being transparently evident in your gardens there is no accountability due to you from the local authority. But Regulation 5(2) provides that a public authority must comply with regulation 5(1) as soon as possible and no later than 20 working days after the date it receives the request. And in this case, the complainant submitted his request on 27 October 2017 and did not receive a response under the EIR until 7 December. Therefore, the Commissioner finds the Council in breach of regulation 5(2).

Congratulations, you’ve proved that those bureaucrats ARE accountable! Your VC (Vexatious Cross)  can be worn with pride.

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