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?