Bolton Council fails in attempt to withhold information from the public

Following on from the recent series of posts on EU Referendum about bailiffs being used by Councils to enforce tax demands and fines, we have a timely story that reveals a successful effort to shine a little more light into the dealings of Council Officers behind the scenes.

Regular readers may remember this important story on Autonomous Mind posted in June this year about Councils trying to hide information that the public should have access to.

Fresh from that victory in forcing Bolton Council to make public the outside business dealings of its senior town hall staff, campaigner John Greenwood has struck yet another blow against Bolton Council’s desire to help its staff avoid transparency and avoid being held to account by the people they are supposed to serve.

A FOI request to Bolton Council asking for copies of all emails or any other correspondence between any officers of Bolton Council which discuss parking Appeals, Regulations, Signs, TRO or Consolidation Order issues saw Mr Greenwood ask for the names of those appearing on correspondence relating to parking enforcement issues.  These particular officers are mostly concerned with parking matters and the application of parking policy together with the issuing of PCN’s (Penalty Charge Notices) in the town of Bolton.  The Council refused to give the names and the matter went to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).

As John Greenwood explains on the We Are Watching You blog:

Some of the council officers involved made it clear to the Information Commissioner they do not want members of the public to know who they are and they have specifically requested the Commissioner not to reveal their names.

The Commissioner says he considers that those in a public-facing role should have a greater expectation that some details about them, for instance their name and the fact that they work for the authority, might be disclosed as part of carrying out their day to day duties.

The officers whose names have now been ordered by the Information Commissioner to be disclosed hold positions such as managerial or media officer positions within the council and therefore they must have an expectation that in dealing with members of the public their names would be disclosed in the course of their day to day duties.

The information Commissioner has decided that, by ordering the disclosure of the names of the council officers involved, it would provide to members of the public details of the actions they took part in as part of their role in the council and would create greater transparency or accountability.

The details of the ICO’s important findings can be seen on Greenwood’s blog.  This could be yet another gamechanger as Councils up and down the country can now expect to be held to the same standard and key Officers prevented from hiding behind an unjustified cloak of anonymity.

While it is disgraceful that public servants continue to think of themselves as the public’s rulers and act accordingly, their grip on the power that should reside with us is slowly being loosened.  The yawning democratic deficit is narrowed bit by bit through determined actions such as these.  More people need to stand up in this way and challenge those public servants who presume to be our masters.  We need to take the power back from them.

Incredibly there is another parallel between this case and the EU Referendum saga – the handling of the matters by the media.  For as the Sunday Telegraph was censoring key pieces of information from Christopher Booker’s column on Richard North’s story, Greenwood reveals the Bolton News has failed to report his story.  It is important because if the Council fails to comply with the steps required by the ICO it may result in a written certification of that fact going to the High Court pursuant to section 54 of the Act, which could see the matter dealt with as a contempt of court.  Instead the Bolton News prefers to run with meaningless stories about Council Member navel gazing.

Is it any wonder more people are rejecting the establishment’s self serving channels and instead are turning to the blogosphere to find out what is really going on?

9 Responses to “Bolton Council fails in attempt to withhold information from the public”

  1. 1 AJC 26/09/2011 at 9:28 am

    “… the outside business dealings of its senior town hall staff …”

    Similar transparency is long overdue with regard to the (any) outside interests of senior University employees.

  2. 2 Bill 26/09/2011 at 11:41 am

    Up here in the political County Of Cumbria we have the CN Group Ltd. This is a media company with fingers in many pies controlled which is controlled and directed by Common Purpose placemen, no surprise there then.
    This company owns many local papers and couple of radio stations so has a pivotal role in getting the ‘right’ message out.

    This same company is embedded with Cumbria County Council as it has another arm calling itself CN Research which carries out all the councils consultations, surveys and number crunching.
    To cut a long story short.
    Common Purpose henchmen and women within Cumbria County Council and many of the local quangos direct Cumbria County Council Policy and control the message that gets out to the masses via the Common Purpose henchmen and women CN group.

    Common Purpose is the hidden government which relies totally on the human frailties of greed and fear to get away with this deep level of control.

    It really is a very neat game CP have going here in Cumbria. The minute anyone gets close to them they roll out their tame lawyers Burnetts to pile on ‘libellous’ pressure. They use libel as it is a grey area in the statute world and it scares people. Burnetts have a seat on just about every political quango/committee/group there is. They also ‘advise the council’.

    Naturally the council is composed of an autocratic civil service which plays the elected members like puppets. The autocratic civil servants are controlled by the common purpose trainees.
    All very circular, very neat, very corrupt but most people are blissfully unaware of any of this. I reckon there has to be a similar set up in every council across the land as they all behave in a similar fashion.

    As for the press being free… now that is a joke.

  3. 3 Patrick Harris 26/09/2011 at 1:06 pm

    Would the Bolton News, as with The Portsmouth News and many, many others, by any chance be owned by Johnston Press of Glasgow.
    I often wondered why any one would want to own over 300 regional and local titles, I of course have an inkling.

  4. 4 Sam Duncan 26/09/2011 at 5:45 pm

    Johnston Press is in Edinburgh, Patrick (it’s the Scotsman, among all its local holdings, for those who don’t recognise the name). The Bolton News doesn’t appear to be one of its titles, although Wikipedia only has a “partial” list.

  5. 5 dave ward 26/09/2011 at 7:37 pm

    According to Richard North’s latest post, Bradford Council ARE refusing to give out information:

  6. 6 jameshigham 27/09/2011 at 7:30 pm

    I would put money on CP being behind that. They’re the masters of strongarm tactics and reduction of services.

  7. 7 Gary Hall 29/09/2011 at 9:28 am

    My employers and fellow workers know who I am and those I deal with on a face to face basis know who I am – why are these pompous beuracrats exempt ?

  8. 8 JohnM 29/09/2011 at 3:08 pm

    If they had nothing to hide, they would not mind.
    As for the “free” press…..nothing is further from the truth.
    Owned by large companies (even the small ‘papers) with large wallets/purses and fingers in many pies, and councillors.
    Local council: thy name is corruption.
    It just goes the show exactly how much democracy is held in contempt by our “elected” puppets [muppets].

  9. 9 jameshigham 30/09/2011 at 5:06 pm

    I’m sometimes fed doings in councils too and it is, if not illegal, at least highly dubious tactics. Councils have always had that edge to them but CP has given them their characteristic cavalier edge we see today.

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