First it was zombies, now it appears we’re unprepared for alien attacks too…

First zombies, now aliens...

Last month, we learnt that zombies, should they choose to invade Leicester, would face even less opposition than greeted the Libyan rebels as they entered Tripoli.

Then it happened (kind of):

Not surprisingly, the ‘Are you prepared for Zombie attacks’ FOI took on a life of its own – with a deluge of similar FOIs elsewhere.

The most amusing response came from Bristol City Council, which produced what I assume is a spoof ‘zombie attack plan.’ Wolverhampton Council perhaps produced the sniffiest response, saying no such plan existed and that it cost, on average £100 to deal with each FOI. If it really cost £100 to prove that no zombie plan exists at Wolverhampton Council, it’s probably a clear sign that zombies have already taken over.

Anyway, enough of the zombies. We’re now on to aliens. The Liverpool ECHO this week reported on how Merseyside Police, Merseyside Fire and Rescue and Liverpool Primary Care Trust have both confirmed, under FOI, that they don’t have any specific plans to deal with an alien invasion. The FOI request, for the record, wasn’t submitted by the ECHO. It came via whatdotheyknow.com – and it’s clear the requester had thought hard about what he meant by an alien:

“Can you please furnish me with any and all information held by yourselves relating to plans to deal with an alien invasion?

“By alien, I mean a life-form that evolved on a planet other than Earth, and travelled here by any means possible.”

While an alien invasion appears to be unlikely – I suspect a deluge of alien-related FOIs are on the way to an information officer near you.
But is it a waste of time and resources to be dealing with such requests? Given that it should be blindingly obvious that primary care trusts, fire services and police forces won’t have contingency plans to deal with alien invasions, it shouldn’t be too difficult for the bodies involved to answer the question when asked.
So it’s a shame that Merseyside Fire and Rescue refused to answer the request on the grounds it was vexatious because it didn’t serve a serious purpose. Merseyside Police, on the other hand, insisted it was ‘committed to an honest relationship with the public’ so responded.

If you look at the comments at the foot of the Liverpool ECHO article, you’ll see complaints that the alien FOI isn’t the only one Merseyside Fire and Rescue has rejected on the grounds of it being vexatious. Perhaps the truth is out there now … aliens or not, we’ve another example of a public body which doesn’t like being held to account?

4 comments

  1. FOI leads cannot be experts on every aspect of the organisation: by the time you have the admin time to forward the request internally, staff time to collate information and respond, possibly senior management or director time to review any exemptions and/or ‘sign off’ responses as complete and good to go, possibly external legal advice to make *absolutely sure* that exemptions are being correctly applied, an *average* of £100 (i.e. over ALL requests, not just “hilarious” ones)sounds on the low side to me to be honest.

    Sure, the aliens requests would probably cost less – but others cost up to £450 (more if you take into account admin time -including redaction of documents if necessary – which is not ‘counted’ by law in terms of dealing with FOIs, but still has to be paid for by the organisation somewhere along the line).

    I can’t comment on whatever other requests Merseyside F&R have refused under Section 14 (vexatious) but IMO, they were right to do so on the aliens one.

    So, yes it IS a waste of time and resource. Because FOI is an IMPORTANT RIGHT and this deluge of copycat requests is a burden on public funds (if you are a taxpayer and reading this, that’s YOUR money, which is therefore not being spent on frontline services) and, more importantly, if this silliness gets out of hand, that could provide ammunition to the FOI “naysayers” who want to remove or reduce the public’s right to public authority information.

    It was only funny the first time. /rant

    1. I agree with you, but I also think a ‘grin and bear it’ approach is probably the best way to knock these FOIs on the head. I know FOI leads can’t be experts on everything within their organisations, but I hope the alien policy request would be quite simple to solve?

      1. The ‘cost’ of FOI, legally speaking, is calculated at £25/hour (based on limit of cost of compliance: £450 or 18 hours). Most administrators aren’t paid anywhere near that (wish we were!) – but as well as their salary, remember that there’s the costs of employing them: office space/facilities, their manager’s time, etc. Still almost certainly less than £25/hour, but that amount is a reasonable average for costs of requests if you consider that some requests will cost more to meet, particularly if they involve input from very senior staff, or professional legal advice.

        Let’s look at the process: the FOI admin has to read the request and send a response. They probably also have to log it, possibly redact sender information from request and response for publication on the organisation’s website. There may also be a requirement for senior management signoff. Let’s say that for an easy-to-deal with “comic” request, all that takes 10-15 minutes – at £25/hour, that’s about £5. Multiply that by the number of public authorities in the UK, and that’s a whole lot of fivers.

        ‘grin and bear it’ – and, for preference, don’t give any publicity to copycats which might encourage the eversoclever and witty to try to come up with the most ridiculous requests they can think of. The last thing I want to see is a clampdown on rights to access to information because a few attention-seekers are being irresponsible with use of public sector resources.

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