Brent Council is ‘spectacularly ridiculous’

BRENT Council was singled out as ‘spectacularly ridiculous’ in handling Freedom of Information requests from a public information website.

BRENT COUNCIL was singled out as being ‘spectacularly ridiculous’ in the way it treats Freedom of Information requests from a public information website.

And its information officers were accused of a systematic antipathy to their obligations under the FOI Act.

The Council even treated a request for its complaints procedure as a FOI request, meaning a 20-day delay, eventually sending it in a password protected zip-file.

Doug Paulley originally contacted every council in England to ask for information about procedures in residential care homes.

He said: “While some councils were a bit crap or refused or didn’t have some of the info, none of them treated it in quite such a spectacularly ridiculous way as Brent.”

Mr Paulley, who lives in a residential care home in Yorkshire, sent the request through website, a site that helps members of the public send FOI requests to public bodies.

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It then automatically publishes responses on its website.

However Brent Council objects to this saying it infringes copyright requiring a separate re-use request.

The government watchdog ruled it didn’t and has directed Brent Council to respond.

Unhappy with the service Mr Paulley requested the council’s complaints procedure.

When it was finally sent it was password protected.

A message said he must telephone or supply a private email address for the password.

Mr Paulley said: “I said to them I’m not going to jump through your silly hoops. In the end I cracked the password so I never got it off them. The password was antidisestablishmentarism. Its quite creative stonewalling you have to give them credit for that.

“It feels like Sir Humphrey of Yes Minister; the civil service not wanting to perform a public service.

Mr Paulley has now requested that Brent Council’s FOI request policy be reviewed at the next overview and scrutiny committee.

A Brent Council spokeswoman said: “The document Mr Paulley asked for, and was sent, was an internal document for officers about how to administer the FOI Internal Review procedure. We do not normally publish these internal procedures.

“The document was password protected to clarify that it was the applicant who was publishing the information because the website associated with the request automatically publishes all responses. However, we have now agreed to send information to the site in open format (without a password) having received an assurance from the Information Commissioner that the council is not liable in respect of any third party copyright published on the site.”

The spokeswoman said FOI procedures and performance are monitored and discussed by means of an annual report to the council’s corporate management team.