FOI: The council leader who thinks the end of phone hacking will lead to a rise in the use of FOI by naughty journalists

Another week, and another council leade jumps on to his high horse to denounce journalists for having the cheek to ask for information under the Freedom of Information Act.

Normally, when council leaders get narky about FOI, it’s because they find it costs a lot of money to answer requests, and rather than question why they aren’t just more open in the first place, they look to have a go at someone.

In that sense, Angus Council leader Bob Myles is no different to the likes of the leader of Nottingham City Council or the top man at Chester and Cheshire West Council, but at least the latter two went to the trouble to find out how much FOI cost before ranting.

Coun Myles, according to STV, didn’t even do that. After ranting about journalists using FOI ‘every time they get a been in their bonnet,’ he added:

“Maybe they should ask how much we spend responding to FOI requests every year.”

Perhaps a more effective way of presenting that argument would be for Coun Myles to get the information himself by asking an officer, something you would assume a council leader who know to do without any prompting.

Coun Myles appears to be irked by the fact that details of council spending on credit cards has been released under FOI. He describes the spending details as ‘trivial.’ The details released include:

Angus Council’s response to the request showed that council officials spent £13,400 on air travel using its Clydesdale Bank credit card account. Among other expenses charged to the taxpayer was £800 for a visit to the plush Rusacks Hotel overlooking the Old Course at St Andrews and £595 for bespoke cufflinks for guests at the Senior Open Championship, held in 2010 in Carnoustie.

I don’t think the problem here is Freedom of Information legislation. I think the problem is a council leader who doesn’t like being accountable to the media. If he really wants to tackle the cost of FOI, then making his authority more open by default would be a start.

But then again, when you think it’s ok to spend taxpayers money on bespoke cufflinks, you’re probably not going to think being open is a good idea, are you?

To put Coun Myles rant into context, STV reported:

Mr Myles suggested that certain newspaper reporters would now begin to “abuse” the legislation as an alternative to obtaining information illegally by methods such as phone hacking – at an “absolutely excessive” cost to local authorities.

Top marks for trying to force the issue of the day into a rant about FOI, but really, what planet is Coun Myles on?

One comment

  1. Thanks for reminder about the leader of Cheshire West and Chester Council. But I wouldn’t want any reader to get the impression Mike Jones has now ‘seen the light’ as regards “openness and transparency”.

    So, in order to correct any misperception, he is actually on the record stating he reserves the right to prevent any employee from making FOI / DP requests in the future, not through an FOIA exemption, but through a clause in a compromise agreement (not dissimilar to the one News International inserted into Greg Mulcaire’s confidentiality agreement, which allowed them to give very expensive succour to a felon and to support his ongoing legal case).

    These desperate tactics will be hidden away and protected by threats, and also by contract law – and may even require extreme pressure to have them removed. See Hugh Tomlinson QC’s intervention in this FOI / DP case: http://tinyurl.com/6gaf2ts.

    We all know it’s actions (not words) that have the most damaging effect on civil liberties. Public proclamations and ‘hot air’ are one thing, but I think the leader of Angus Council has much to learn yet from others (unless he is actually on a campaign of closing the books away from public view, and we don’t yet know about it)

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