#AllInItTogether or Once Upon A Time

Once upon a time there was a politician who said “We’re all in this together” or something very similar.

Soon after there followed one of the new breed, a Police and Crime Commissioner belonging to the same party as old “we’re all in this together” chops.

We didn’t ask for this new thing called PCCs, we just got them because some politicians somewhere thought it would be a good idea.

Anyway, the point of my tale is this.

The Police and Crime Commissioner for a large, rural force not too far away from DeadBadgerShire has a website. It’s his own personal website, his PCC website is separate, although they do seem to cross over sometimes.

Once upon a time he said this on his website;

“Working with my new Chief Constable, we have cut the cost of the three top salaries from £420,000 to £330,000. I have cut 15% from the cost of governing the police. We are pushing through further reforms to ensure money is spent where it’s most needed – on policing our towns and villages.”

Using the Freedom of Information Act I asked this thoughtful PCC what the three top salaries were that he (they) had reduced.

I must give him (his office) credit for answering that one.

Chief Constable, salary reduced from £175,014 to £161,819

Director of Finance and Resources, salary reduced from £141,295 to £98,000 and a reduction in responsibilities to Director of Resources only.

Chief Executive, salary reduced from £109,584 to £70,589 and responsibilities reduced to Chief of Staff only.

Salary bill reduced from £425,893 to £330,408.

He didn’t tell me that he has also snuck in a Deputy Commissioner at a salary of £53,000, making the figures above somewhat less impressive, but to be honest  I would have left it that had he not rattled my goat with this tweet recently

https://twitter.com/ChrisTRSalmon/status/564018319154774018

This was followed by a challenge from one of our number

To which, the reply was;

I couldn’t resist, so I had to chip in with

To his eternal credit, he came back to me this comprehensive reply

Now, I wanted to be able to explain to you all why the PCC has felt it appropriate to cut three salaries, diminish two top posts and bring on board a deputy whilst maintaining his own salary, but I can’t because I haven’t had it explained to me, but I’m sure there’s a reason, his own salary (I found it eventually, buried deep in the website) is circa £65,000, quite reasonable really.

So I can go into the weekend assured that we truly are #AllInItTogether

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

IMG_0108

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

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.

Stating The Bleeding Obvious

What is it that’s so bleeding obvious?

That the Met has lost its way.  Never before have I known it to flounder and flap around like a fish out of water as they are at the moment under their current leadership, Sir Bernard Hogan-Who and his team of muppets.  Even in the disappointing times under McNee (The Rubber Hammer) they were a more positive organisation than they are today.

Take the case of James Patrick. I’m not going to bore the pants off you by repeating everything, and James is currently waiting his Employment Tribunal, but just look at what’s already in the public domain about his treatment by the Met and the disciplinary matters that have arisen.

He was subject to Gross Misconduct proceedings, a review by an outside Force decreed this constituted no more than Misconduct. A process that hung over his head for 18 months or more was concluded in a hearing lasting no more than 10 minutes, you can read James’ views of this elsewhere.

James decided that be had no alternative but to resign, then whilst serving his ‘notice’ was served with further discipline papers alleging Gross Misconduct once more. James has now the left the Met, as you know, but has the disciplinary process been staid? No it has not. James now runs the risk of facing a disciplinary hearing after his resignation, possibly in his absence, and be added to CoP’s list of Struck-Off officers, with all the consequences of that. This seems to me to be driven by spite and revenge. The Met clearly don’t know how to handle a man like James, but is this any way for an ethical organisation to behave?

Take the case of the TSG6 as highlighted by Tessa Munt MP recently. She was covered by Parliamentary Privilege when she made her revelations but they were absolutely staggering, accusing senior members of the Met of criminal acts, and, once again, highly questionable behaviour by Directorate of Professional Standards officers. You can read the transcript or watch the video elsewhere. Is this any way for an ethical organisation to behave?

Call me picky but I can’t think of a single Freedom of Information request that I have submitted (in relation to James) where the Met has actually told me anything. On at least one occasion I truly believe that the Met has LIED to me.

Another FOI is delayed while they consider the Health and Safety implications of supplying me with a set of Minutes of a meeting.

In relation to another I have asked for a redacted copy of a letter sent to James by DPS. They have refused this request on the grounds of Personal Data. The only Personal Data this letter could contain is someone’s name, i.e. the author of the letter.

This from an organisation that has had a policy for over 10 years that officers will display their first name and surname on their uniform or name badge.

So Personal Data under the terms of the Data Protection Act doesn’t really float does it?

Members of the House of Commons and the House of Lords have expressed their disapproval of James’ treatment at the hands of the Met. Is this any way for an ethical organisation to behave?

The Met briefed Counsel to oppose James at the first hearing of his Employment Tribunal, specifically to oppose Interim Relief, which, if granted, would have ensured a basic income continued up until his ET was settled one way of the other.  A few thousand pounds. The Met spends millions on defending actions, paying compensation for something or other.  There was a time when the Met would pay up without even questioning what it was for, but thankfully those days are over at least.  All in all it has the smell of VINDICTIVE about the whole sorry saga..   Is this the way an ethical organisation should behave?

I find myself with three questions;

  1. Are the Senior Management of the Met and the officers of Directorate of professional Standards so out of control that they can treat their ‘underlings’ in this manner with impunity?
  2. Is this merely blind panic as they find themselves in a situation they don’t know how to deal with and haven’t got the balls to admit it?
  3. What on earth would happen if a PC/PS/DC/DS etc treated a member of the public, or even the criminal fraternity, with such venom and apparently a total lack of regard for Disclosure and the law in general?

 

It wouldn’t be a pat on the back and a quiet retirement I assure you, but then I’m stating the bleeding obvious again.

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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.