Shouldn’t The College of Policing Be Better Behaved?

I thought that Policing was much about Right and Wrong, making sure people do things right and prosecuting (other methods of Disposal are also available) the ones who didn’t.  Am I very wide of the mark there?  Simplistic I know, but I find it’s best to keep things simple where the College is involved.

Then, if this is right, shouldn’t the College of Policing be teaching the Police the best ways to uphold the Law and make sure everybody knows their Rights from their Wrongs?  Surely they should be a Law-Abiding Limited Company, shouldn’t they?

So, on the 15th March when I sent them a Freedom of Information request in relation to their National Undercover Policing Scrutiny Panel, they had BY LAW until 15th April to reply.  I had a response from Steven, Ethics, Integrity and Public Interest Co-ordinator acknowledging my request, and the attached letter (which actually had Steven’s full name on it, unlike his casual response) said “Your request will be considered in accordance with the legislation and you will receive a
response within the statutory timescale of 20 working days, subject to the provisions of the Act.  In the unlikely event that the College of Policing is unable to meet the 20 working day deadline, you will be informed as soon as possible and given a revised time-scale for response.

Well, as they haven’t contacted me in any way since their original acknowledgement, even though I’m expecting a Refusal Notice, I can only assume that they are flouting the law by not replying within 20 working days, or offering me an explanation as to why they can’t comply.

Have they EVER replied to anybody about anything?  I don’t see any evidence of a willingness to engage on Twitter, so why do they have an account?  Just to self-publicise without the willingness to interact?

Having perused previous FOI requests made of them they do like to try and find an Exemption to claim, anything tricky and they play the Exemption Card. So we shall see.

I would have thought that an ethical organisation would comply with the spirit of the Act and supply the information when they could, but I have to say that some of the Exemptions they have applied seem spurious at best.

Of the 26 FOI Requests made via the website I use 4 have been REFUSED, 4 are OVERDUE, and a further 4 they claim not to hold the information that was requested.  So requesters’ success rates are not very high with the College, although nowhere near as bad as the Home Office, the College could learn something there.

Law-Abiding?  Not where the Freedom of Information Act is concerned, no.

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On Balance, The Public Interest Is……

in favour of non -disclosure.

Well, that’s a bloody surprise…….NOT.

Today I received my final response from the Home Office in relation to my request regarding Risk and Impact Assessments re the further cuts to Police Budgets.  I have to admit I wasn’t expecting to see one, but I did think I’d just get an outright Refusal.

What I got was this:-

After careful consideration we have decided that the pieces of advice to Ministers, relevant to your request, are exempt from disclosure under section 35 (1)(a) of the Act, which provides that information can be withheld if it is likely to prejudice the policy making process and the delivery of effective government.

and

The advantages of releasing the advice to  Ministers are that it would help the public to better understand how Ministers came to their decisions.  

The disadvantages of releasing the information are that officials would feel constrained in their advice to Ministers.

and

Therefore, we have determined that on balance, the public interest is in favour of non-disclosure.

So if I have interpreted this correctly, it’s not in the Public Interest for you/us to understand how Government came to this decision, and we’re better off not being told.

Well, I’m glad I’ve got that one sorted then.

#CutsHaveConsequences

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Home Office–A Rule Unto Themselves? Surely Not

I won’t bore you for long today.

Basically, I made an FOI request to the Home Office asking for copies of Risk Assessments and Impact Assessments in relation to the previously announced 5% cut to Police Budgets.

They were due to answer today.

This is the response I have been given;

We are considering your request. Although the Act carries a presumption in favour of disclosure, it provides exemptions which may be used to withhold information in specified circumstances. Some of these exemptions, referred to as ‘qualified exemptions’, are subject to a public interest test. This test is used to balance the public interest in disclosure against the public interest in favour of withholding information. The Act allows us to exceed the 20 working day response target where we need to consider the public interest test fully.

The information you have requested is being considered under the exemption in section 35 (1)(a) of the Act, which provides that information can be withheld if it is likely to prejudice the policy making process and the delivery of effective government. This is a qualified exemption(s) and to consider the public interest fully we need to extend the 20 working day response period. We now aim to let you have a full response by 17 February 2015.

In the mean time you may find published reports about this subject matter useful. These include the Peel Assessment and the ‘Meeting the Challenge’ report, carried out by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC). Both these reports show that forces are successfully managing to balance their books while protecting the frontline and delivering reductions in crime and are taken into account by Ministers before they make their final decision. To access these reports please visit the following websites:

https://www.justiceinspectorates.gov.uk/hmic/our-work/peel-assessments/the-first-peel-assessment/

https://www.justiceinspectorates.gov.uk/hmic/our-work/value-for-money-inspections/policing-in-austerity-meeting-the-challenge/

Additionally, you may like to see the Provisional Police Grant Report and Written Ministerial Statement (WMS). Both these documents explain how the policing budget is calculated and how this calculation is used by Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) to plan their budgets. Please view these documents at:

https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/police-finance

Is it just me?  Am I being mugged off?  What I’m asking for is some reassurance that they have actually considered the consequences of these cuts, not how they work the bloody budgets out in the first place. Surely that IS in the Public Interest.

So, are HMIC party to this illusion that all is well and books are being balanced? Why would Uncle Tom feed Cruella anything other than the truth?

Now I sit and wait for another month and dare I anticipate that the Home Office will invoke the exemption and ultimately refuse like they normally do? Or am I the only one who wants to be satisfied that the risks have been suitably assessed.

#cutshaveconsequences

#CutsHaveConsequences

Open Letter To The BBC

Dear BBC,

At the beginning of this year I submitted the Freedom of Information Act request to yourselves that is reproduced below together with your response.

I have to say that I was disappointed by your response, in saying that what I had requested was outside the scope of the Act, and that you have no record of the number of MPs that appear on your programmes. I was however interested in your Editorial Guidelines that state that the BBC should not be paying politicians for appearances where they express political views, and for a long time I took that at face value and assumed that you did not, therefore, pay politicians for their appearances on political programmes such as Question Time.

20 January 2014

Dear Mr Wright

Freedom of Information request – RFI 20140024

Thank you for your request to the BBC of 5th January 2014, seeking the following information under the Freedom of Information Act 2000:

“Could you please tell me for the 2012/2013 Financial Year

a) How many serving MPs have appeared in BBC TV programmes (with the exception of live News Broadcasts etc)

b) What was the total sum of money paid to serving MPs for their appearance/contribution to BBC scheduled TV and Radio programmes”

The information you have requested is out of scope of the Act. However, we are happy to explain that we do not keep a record of the numbers of MPs and so would in any case be unable to give you this information. With regard to payments to MPs, you may be interested to read the policy set out in the BBC’s Editorial Guidelines, which set out the principles to which BBC employees should adhere: http://www.bbc.co.uk/editorialguidelines/page/guidelines-politicspractices-interviews#payment-to-mps . These state:

10.4.7

We should not normally pay MPs, or others clearly identified as representing political
parties, for appearances or other contributions to any BBC output in which they are
speaking as a member of their party or expressing political views. They can, where
appropriate, be paid a limited and realistic disturbance fee and/or any reimbursement for
genuine expenses.

10.4.8

They may be paid for contributions to non-political output, where they are appearing on the basis of their expertise outside politics or of their celebrity, and are not taking part as a member of their party or expressing political views. (See Section 10 Politics, Public Policy and Polls: 10.4.4)

Active politicians should not normally be paid for an appearance on, or contribution to, BBC News output. The extent to which a contributor is considered an active politician may be influenced in each case by a combination of factors including, for example, the type of programme or other content, the nature of the contribution, the contributor’s political activity or the capacity in which they appear. Further advice should be sought from Chief Adviser Politics

We hope you find this helpful. Please note that the information you have requested is excluded from the Act because it is held for the purposes of ‘journalism, art or literature.’ Part VI of Schedule 1 to FOIA provides that information held by the BBC and the other public service broadcasters is only covered by the Act if it is held for ‘purposes other than those of journalism, art or literature” 1. The BBC is not required by the Act to supply information held for the purposes of creating the BBC’s output or information that supports and is closely associated with these creative activities; however, on this occasion we’re happy to provide the above information in response to your request.

Appeal Rights

The BBC does not offer an internal review when the information requested is not covered by the Act. If you disagree with our decision you can appeal to the Information Commissioner. Contact details are: Information Commissioner’s Office, Wycliffe House, Water Lane, Wilmslow, Cheshire, SK9 5AF telephone 01625 545 700. http://www.ico.gov.uk

Yours sincerely,

Stephanie Harris

Head of Accountability, BBC News

So, not only do you claim that you could not answer my question as you don’t record that information, but you give enquirers no Right of Appeal, but instead refer them direct to the Information Commissioner.  For your information the information Commissioner’s website (which is now located at https://ico.org.uk/) says this “You should first complain to the authority and ask it to conduct an internal review.” An Internal Review that you don’t offer.  The Information Commissioner won’t act unless one has asked you for an Internal Review, and you state that you don’t conduct Internal Reviews.  Brilliant!!

Getting back to my original request, you state “We should not normally pay MPs, or others clearly identified as representing political parties, for appearances or other contributions to any BBC output in which they are speaking as a member of their party or expressing political views. “  and  “They may be paid for contributions to non-political output, where they are appearing on the basis of their expertise outside politics or of their celebrity, and are not taking part as a member of their party or expressing political views. “

Personally I would regard This Week as a political programme, and includes political views from the participants. 

For your further information, Diane Abbott MP has declared to the  Register of Members’ Interests that she has been paid £700 by the BBC for every time that she has appeared on This Week.  In the most recent version of the 2014/15 Register (8th December 2014) she has declared that the BBC have paid her £700 on 17 separate occasions.  That equals £11,900 paid for by the BBC Trust for services the the Editorial Guidelines would indicate that she not be paid for.

Diane Abbott is not alone in this, other MPs have made similar declarations to the Register.

As I can clearly not rely on an Act of Parliament to obtain the information I require, maybe Ms Stephanie Harris, Head of Accountability, BBC News, could explain this anomaly to me or attempt to answer my original question.  I see no reason whatsoever why this issue should be protected by Journalistic Privilege, I am not requesting any names, not seeking to identify journalists sources, merely attempting to establish how the British Licence Payers’ money is being spent.  Is that too much to ask?

Yours

Alan Wright

And The Melton Mowbray Award 2014/15 Goes To……..

Well, for me it’s a close-run thing between Diane Abbott and the BBC. I am indebted to Media Guido for the article below.

Diane Abbott Pockets £110,000 of Licence Fee Payer Cash

Feel free to follow the link and you will be further directed to a schedule of payments, that Diane Abbott has properly declared, showing that every time she pops up on BBC’s This Week programme she pockets a cool £700.

In 2004, following a complaint made by Andrew Rosindell MP, Abbott was investigated by the Committee on Standards and Privileges regarding payment she had received from the BBC. They found she had failed to declare earnings of £17,300 on the Register of Members’ Interests which had been received for appearances on the television programme This Week, so, bearing that in mind she unfailingly declares her £700 per week courtesy of Auntie.

In August 2012 the BBC Trust ruled that payments to Abbott for her appearances on This Week were made in breach of BBC guidelines that banned payments to MPs who were representing their political parties. For her part, Abbott had correctly declared the payments in the Parliamentary Register of Members’ Interests. The Trust also said that Abbott had appeared on the show too often.

At the beginning of this year I wrote to the BBC and asked them this question;

“Could you please tell me for the 2012/2013 Financial Year;

a) How many serving MPs have appeared in BBC TV programmes (with the exception of live News Broadcasts etc)

b) What was the total sum of money paid to serving MPs for their appearance/contribution to BBC scheduled TV and Radio programmes”

Their reply included:-

With regard to payments to MPs, you may be interested to read the policy set out in the BBC’s Editorial Guidelines, which set out the principles to which BBC employees should adhere: http://www.bbc.co.uk/editorialguidelines/page/guidelines-politicspractices-interviews#payment-to-mps . These state:

10.4.7

We should not normally pay MPs, or others clearly identified as representing political parties, for appearances or other contributions to any BBC output in which they are speaking as a member of their party or expressing political views. They can, where appropriate, be paid a limited and realistic disturbance fee and/or any reimbursement for genuine expenses.

10.4.8

They may be paid for contributions to non-political output, where they are appearing on the basis of their expertise outside politics or of their celebrity, and are not taking part as a member of their party or expressing political views.

So, it was 2012 when she was ruled in breach of the above Editorial Guidelines.

Fast Forward to May 2014, the most recent entries available in the MPs Register of Financial Interests, and there we find our Diane still registering £700 a go for appearing on This Week, just not as often.

Much as I don’t like Diane Abbott, I can’t imagine that she would register money that she had NOT been paid, so I must assume that she has.

Therefore, by a process of elimination, I must award the Melton Mowbray to the BBC, for claiming that they don’t pay politicians for appearing on programmes such as This Week, when it is evident that they do.

Shame on you BBC, that’s OUR money.

Just in case any of you thought I was picking on the unfortunate Ms Abbott, Mr Keith Vaz has also declared that he has accepted payment from the BBC for appearing on Any Questions, which is also a politically orientated programme I believe.

What Could You Do With £68k?

I was going to take a day off today, but events overtook me.

What could you do with £68,000?

You could employ 3 Police Recruits (or Student Constables, whatever they’re called today) for a year.

You could buy/lease a few nice shiny cars to compliment the fleet.

You could certainly fund a new Reward Specialist.

You could mount several street-level operations against Borough priorities and keep the public happy.

Or you could move a sign.

A Freedom of Information Request (not one of mine this time MPS) has revealed that it cost £68,000 to move the revolving sign outside New Scotland Yard in 2012.  Money well spent I say, seeing as how they’ll all be moving out by 2016 as Boris sells off a bit more of the family silver.

In it’s entirety, mainly cos it;s Monday and I could do with a laugh, here’s the request and the Met’s response.

Enjoy, I’m off to lie down in a darkened room;

I have heard that the MPS spent a considerable amount of money moving the revolving NSY sign outside New Scotland Yard. Could you please advise me:
1. Is this true?
2. When was the work done?
3. How much did the work cost?
4. What was the reason for the move?
5. How far was the sign moved?
6. How long had the sign been in place prior to its being moved?
7. How long is it before the MPS is scheduled to leave NSY, taking the sign with them?

RESULT OF SEARCHES

The searches located information relevant to your request.

DECISION

I have today decided to disclose the located information to you in full. Total costs of replacing and relocating the sign were £68,000. This figure included design and manufacture of a new sign, the mechanical and electrical infrastructure required to support the sign, installation, building work and associated professional fees including Town Planning process.

The works were part of resilience and security redevelopment works to NSY in preparation for the Olympics. The sign now provides electrical points for broadcasting organisations and is located to provide open interview space for news items.
The sign was moved in June 2012. The new site is approximately 15m from the original site of the sign where it had been for over 30 years.

The move of staff and officers from New Scotland Yard will be completed by Spring 2016.

Forgive me for being pedantic, but isn’t this Public (Council Tax Payers’) money? Could it not have been better spent? Yet one more example of inexplicable priorities.

The Met Re-Launches Operation Own Goal

Back in the beginning of February I asked the Met for the cost of the James Patrick Disciplinary Enquiry.  Their reply, you may remember, was

Directorate of Professional Standards (DPS) investigations are not
routinely costed by the MPS. The investigation into PC James Patrick has
accordingly, not been attributed a cost. Furthermore, should a member of
staff endeavour to calculate the cost of this investigation, there is
insufficient information held by the MPS to undertake this calculation.
For example, police officers are required, each day, to complete a duty
state. The duty state records the activities performed by a police
officer. This record does not contain sufficient detail to allow the time
spent by a police officer on a particular investigation to be calculated.
This is largely because police officers tend to be involved in more than
one investigation at any given time and the duty state does not record
each activity performed by an officer and attribute this activity to a
particular investigation. Moreover, it should also be noted that no record
of duties exists for members of police staff.

I did not believe them and so I requested that they carried out a Review of their response.  The response to their Review was this

The information requested is not held by the MPS.  Even discounting costs
that are not connected to staff time, this information is not held.

Furthermore, the MPS response explained that information recorded on duty
states does not contain sufficient information to identify time spent on
the investigation to which your request relates.  It follows that the MPS
are unable to provide the total number of hours expended on the
investigation.

Well you can imagine that I wasn’t very pleased to see that as the direct result of a Freedom of Information request the Met had been able to state the current AND PROJECTED costs of the McCann enquiry.

Now I see in the press, also as the result of a Freedom of Information request, the Met can tell the press that it has cost them £5.9 million to guard Julian Assange.

I can see that I’m going to have to point that little anomaly out to the Information Commissioner before he finishes assessing my Appeal against the Met response.

Incompetence or out and out lies? Whichever, I’ve reached the stage where I don’t believe a single word that comes out of The Centre.

It’s difficult for me to view this as anything other than yet one more Own Goal.

MPS – just be honest and open with me and tell me how much it has cost. Is that really too much to ask?

It really is time that #TeamMet had a new manager. David Moyes is free.