One piece of advice I picked up at an FOI seminar last year was that you should always ask for email trawls when seeking correspondence between two parties – for example a council leader and a third party.
In Nottingham, they are clearly aware of this trick, where Lib Dem city councillor Tony Collins has been using FOI to try and get hold of details of the city council’s communications plans in advance of the 2007 local election.
When he didn’t get a response, he submitted a second FOI request, asking for copies of correspondence relating to his first FOI request. The city council’s FOI officer in turn contacted the council leader Jon Collins asking for permission to do an automated trawl of his email account to see what he’d had to say about the original FOI request.
“My answer is no. You do not have my consent to automatically trawl my e-mails.”
I’m reasonably certain that a council officer wouldn’t be afforded the same right. And as a publicly-elected official, Cllr Collins really should be setting an example. When councillors do things like this, the question most of us ask is ‘What have they got to hide?’
The Nottingham Post has reported on this story. The council says it is now investigating.
Nottingham City Council is, by the way, the only authority in the country refusing to produce details of all spending over £500. It’s also the council which has also warned a local blogger that if he submits more than one FOI request every 60 days, they’ll treat it as vexatious.