One of the unintended consequences of the Freedom of Information Act is the ability it gives authorities to kick issues into the long grass.
Reporters regularly tell me about asking for information from a press office and being told to file it as an FOI request. I know of councillors who have had to FOI their own authorities for information. And council officers having to do the same.
But this is the first time I’ve heard of a council expecting its staff to submit FOI requests for details relating to themselves – and then telling journalists to do the same when they ask why the council hasn’t replied to the FOI request from council staff.
Derby City Council argues its nothing to hide, but it appears to be doing a jolly good job of creating the impression it has.
According to the Derby Telegraph, a worker asked the authority to reveal details on how decisions about their pay are made, it failed to answer all the questions put in the FOI request.
So the employee took the council to the Information Commissioner, hoping to get the Commissioner to get the council to play ball. The Commissioner did just that and told the council to explain to the member of staff how their job was analysed as part of a pay review – the sort of thing you’d hope an employee wouldn’t have to resort to FOI for in the first place.
Bizarrely, according to the Telegraph, the council was arguing it couldn’t reveal such details because they were ‘trade secrets.’ Since when was determining council pay a trade secret? What secret magic formula does Derby use which hundreds of other councils are unaware of? The Colonel’s secret recipe it probably isn’t.
What it turned out to be was the council’s reluctance to share details of how a firm of private consultants worked out the fine details of a pay review. In other words, the council put the need to keep a private firm’s methodolgy above the need to be open about how it proposed spending council money and ahead of the need to explain to staff how it was determining their take-home pay.
All of which, naturally, caught the attention of the Derby Telegraph. It asked the city council if it intended to comply with the Information Commissioner’s ruling that it must disclose the information requested – ie how the pay review was worked out – within 35 days.
The city council’s response to the Telegraph?
A council spokeswoman said this “had been logged as an FOI request” and that “officers will seek to respond within 20 working days”.
Sometimes, you just can’t make it up.
You can read the Derby Telegraph’s story here
Thanks to Paul Bradshaw for sharing the link to this story with me on Twitter.