Information Commissioner’s ruling against Bolton Council could be a gamechanger

Take a bow please, transparency campaigner John Greenwood.  This could become huge.

Mr Greenwood has been campaigning for Bolton Council to make public the outside business dealings of its senior town hall staff.  He asked for details held on the council’s register of interests in a request under the Freedom of Information Act, but was refused, so he took his case to the Information Commissioner and has won.

As the Bolton News reports:

The commissioner has now ruled that the details of the register of interests should be released. The register records the name of council officers and any personal interests they have, such as ownership of property, family associations, business interests, shareholdings and membership of organisations that may conflict with their decision-making role.

Mr Greenwood said: “This is a major victory for the public and those wanting open, transparent governance over Bolton Council who sought to keep the status quo of secrecy.”

If there is nothing to hide then there is nothing to fear, right?  That’s what we keep being told by government at all levels. So it comes as no surprise to learn that the public servants in Bolton do not want the public to know anything about the dealings of those who are charged with serving their interests and are seeking advice with a view to appealing the matter.

MPs and Councillors already have to declare interests and memberships so the public can see if their decision making is being influenced by a desire to seek advantage for themselves or their friends and contacts, so why not Council Officers? After all it is the officers who work up proposals and make recommendations for Councillors to decide upon and it is officers who are responsible for decisions that affect the local community and involve spending public money. This has been a black hole for years, but now there is finally hope that the floodlights can illuminate the darkest corners of town halls up and down the country.

Mr Greenwood’s victory could be a real gamechanger and make Freedom of Information request a more powerful tool.  The prospect is mouthwatering.  Imagine for a moment what would happen if Council Officers – and by extension civil servants in other branches of government – had to release the details of business dealings with developers, or reveal relationships with organisations such as Common Purpose – which Mr Greenwood tried to do in 2009.  There is so much that could be uncovered that would reveal to the public how government really works.

12 Responses to “Information Commissioner’s ruling against Bolton Council could be a gamechanger”

  1. 1 David Jones 19/06/2011 at 12:21 pm

    Yes, this a game-changer so what is the betting it will be appealed (I presume that there is an appeal process).

    If it is not overturned, this will be a goldmine for the blogosphere with AM in the lead!

  2. 2 Peejos 19/06/2011 at 12:22 pm

    While I whole heartedly agree it is a major step forward, it only works when the officers have been completely honest about their dealings. If they are up to no good then they will take a chance on nobody else knowing either, those on the inside soon work out how to conceal things.

  3. 3 Autonomous Mind 19/06/2011 at 12:26 pm

    if the officers fail to declare something that is later discovered, then goodbye job and pension. They know it, which is why an appeal is being planned and no doubt the LGA will be there with them every step of the way in the background.

  4. 4 WitteringWitney 19/06/2011 at 12:40 pm

    AM: Do you have details of exactly what constitutes ‘senior officials’? I fancy a request into West Oxfordshire DC and Oxfordshire CC………….

    As a matter of interest I did extract last year those elected councillors of WODC who had been on CP courses……..

  5. 5 Autonomous Mind 19/06/2011 at 1:19 pm

    Chief Executive, their direct reports and the direct reports of those officers too. That should generally include the heads of department and those such as senior planning officer. Anyone who has delegated authority from the Members should be looked at too. Below that the decision making power drops dramatically. The titles vary from council to council.

  6. 6 John Payne 20/06/2011 at 9:50 am

    I often wonder if such freedom of information releases are filtered before publication.

    If the challenge includes obtaining information from civil servants, it would be interesting to know if senior Government Westminster civil servants have financial arrangements with Brussels.

  7. 7 paul cardim 20/06/2011 at 11:45 am

    A gamechanger, and long overdue. I hope it’s retrospective when it arrives…

  8. 8 the leeds citizen 24/09/2011 at 5:44 pm

    anyone any idea if and when the bolton appeal is happening? the leeds council is waiting on the decision to maybe start publishing its staff declarations of interest

  9. 9 JustinP 07/11/2011 at 7:10 pm

    @the leeds citizen

    The case is not being heard at this place…

    Click to access QSMapLondonWeb.pdf

    on 21st and 22nd November 2011

  10. 10 JustinP 07/11/2011 at 7:11 pm

    Ooops, typo…

    @the leeds citizen

    The case is NOW being heard at this place…

    Click to access QSMapLondonWeb.pdf

    on 21st and 22nd November 2011

  11. 11 Collythorn 25/11/2011 at 8:12 am

    anyone know how to get in touch with John Greenwood

  12. 12 Graham Cliff 07/09/2012 at 1:33 am

    Maybe try doing so with his website –

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