Green perspectives on Stockwood and Bristol. Mostly.

Friday, 27 July 2012

Stalled. By the Men who would be Mayor.

Both requests should have been easy and straightforward. But it's more like pulling deeply embedded teeth.  Is it just council habit?  Or is there something more sinister?

At this evening's Cabinet, I'd tabled a question to Jon Rogers about the suppression of 'public forum statements' from the on-line record of council meetings. They've been doing it for over a year now.

Yeah, I know, it sounds (and is) pretty dull. Until, that is, you read the powerful and well-informed Statements submitted to the same meeting, in a last ditch attempt to dissuade the Cabinet from selling off old peoples' homes and the like, while contracting out the whole range of 'care' services to the private sector. By tomorrow, those statements, part of the decision making process, will be all but invisible. The only 'evidence' for the Cabinet's decision will be the barely comprehensible reports from officers, in the language of officers.

I was told that the Statements are 'disappeared' because there have been occasional complaints from their authors, or from people named in them, that they never wanted them to go on record. When I suggested that maybe they could be redacted (they wouldn't be the first council papers with heavily blacked out details!) Jon Rogers agreed to look at that possibility. Presumably it hadn't occurred to whoever decided to suppress the whole documents in the first place.

My trump card should have been a test sentence in a Public Forum statement made to a recent Neighbourhood Partnership meeting – it included a request to be be kept on the public on-line record. An easy decision, you might think - but Jon Rogers ducked it (and he's a wannabe Mayor?) For some reason the Head of Legal Services had not given Jon the benefit of his advice on this part of my questions, so instead of an answer, the buck just got passed back to the Head of Legal Services to consider and reply.

So.... simple matter, still waiting.

I have checked with the law, and I have checked Standards, and I have checked with our officers, and it is perfectly in order for me to be the Chair” 

So said Cllr Peter Abrahams (another aspirant mayor) as he dismissed any question of his own prejudice, at the start of the PROWG meeting last year that decided to split the Ashton Vale site into part Town Green, part stadium/development site. The rest is history. The Committee's decision is now thoroughly discredited, and we're all back at square one - and a few thousand quid worse off.

Wondering whether the advice was that he was relying on was as flawed as the meeting he chaired, I put in an FoIrequest for the advice that he cited. On the last of the 20 statutory days for reply, I got a response of sorts. It invokes 'Legal Professional Privilege” as a barrier to disclosure. To a lay mind, that might not make much sense – after all, what on earth could the problem be, the advice has already been summed up in a public meeting ?

I'm promised a clearer reply in a few days. I won't hold my breath. In Bristol, The Road to FoI responses is paved with emptypromises .

So.... simple matter, still waiting.

[The FoI request (though little else!) is in the public domain here  . If you'd like to follow it, there's an option to be emailed about any developments]


Anonymous said...

Pete - There can't be legal professional privilege any more (at least for a public body) as the case is concluded.


Anonymous said...

Pete - This has supposedly been answered now. But if you look at the answer, it doesn't answer the question you asked ?

Where is the advice he received that it was legal and proper to continue ?


Anonymous said...

Have now read your reply on the FoI site.

Surely you should be asking for the full text of the emails of 23rd and 25th May? You have only been given excerpts of these.


Stockwood Pete said...

Hi Harry

You're right. I'd read the response in a more benign way, and assumed that the key to the advice was in an off-record conversation. But it could (or should!) have been in the emails.

Even given what we have, it's pretty clear that PA didn't do as McNamara suggested.

I'll ask again.