FOI: The council which wanted to keep the location of Jubilee street parties a secret. Really

Get out the bunting - but if you're in Oxford, please do it discreetly... the council won't tell!
Get out the bunting – but if you’re in Oxford, please do it discreetly… the council won’t tell!

Councils, for as long as I can remember, have always been keen to play up the importance of community spirit. Indeed, community cohesion was a buzzword which many authorities used repeatedly for a number of years to – depending on your point of view – meddle in areas which went beyond on their remit or help improve the areas they served.

So it must have come as a bit of a shock to Oxford Mail reporters when they asked local councils for details of street parties planned for the Queen’s latest jubilee this summer … only to be told they’d have to put an FOI request.

To quote the newspaper:

The Oxford Mail can today reveal where the street parties are planned after winning a battle with the councils who insisted the events being held in public had to be kept secret.

A spokesman for Oxford City Council said providing specific street names would make the parties public events and mean they had to apply for the relevant insurance.

Now, I can’t claim to be an expert in the legal details around holding a street party, but it seems fair to assume that if a party is being held in the street, it will be clearly visible to anyone who passes it as is, therefore, a public event. But even that shouldn’t prompt the need for insurance, according to this piece about Hampshire County Council from the Daily Mail (you have to get passed the ‘elf and safety gone mad bit first).

Perhaps more importantly (for a blog about FOI) is the idea that a council was refusing to release information on the grounds of the impact it would have – but in full knowledge that it would have to release the information under FOI if asked – thus generating unnecessary paperwork and making itself look, I think, a little bit foolish. To quote the Oxford Mail again:

Last night, a spokesman for the Information Commissioner’s Office, an independent authority set up to uphold the public’s right to information, said it seemed “bizarre” to have been forced to submit an FoI request.

He said: “This is a good example of the FoI Act at work.

“But we feel that organisations would make life a bit easier if they proactively released this kind of information.”

Something for Oxford Council to chew on the next time officers and councillors moan about how much FOI is costing them.


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