Monday 16 November 2009

Freedom Of Information

Two weeks ago, Barnet Council announced plans to publish details of all expenditure over £500. Cllr Richard Cornelius, Cabinet Member for Community Services, told the Barnet Times that the decision would see “bloggers and leakers on their way to their P45s” which was a tacit admission that despite former leader Victor Lyon’s promise in 2002 of “an open and honest Administration”, the council is still obsessively secretive about the way it spends the public’s money.

Whilst Don’t Call Me Dave welcomes the council’s decision, it should be noted that they are not doing the public any special favours by publishing these details on-line. Barnet has actually been required to make this information available since January 2009 when the Information Commissioner’s model publication scheme came into force.

The obvious benefit of the new rules is that if councils publish more information without being asked, there will be far fewer FOI requests made, saving time for both the council and members of the public exercising their legal rights (however much this may annoy those councillors and chief officers who seem to forget that the council exists to serve the public and not the other way around).

When the Westminster expenses scandal broke, David Cameron was quick to realise the damage to Parliament’s reputation and immediately ordered his shadow cabinet members to publish full details of their allowance claims on the Conservative Party web site.

Speaking to Not The Barnet Times, Richard Cornelius said: “If one has transparency then there should be nothing to hide” which is absolutely true but begs the question as to why Barnet is delaying implementation of the new procedures until next May - some 17 months late! The technology already exists for the council to publish full details of its expenditure. But whilst the technology exists, clearly the will does not.

DCMD does not believe the rumour that the delay is a deliberate attempt to prevent the automatic disclosure of Mike Freer’s expenses before he stands down from the council in 6 month’s time to run for Parliament. It is surely just a mere coincidence that no council leader in Barnet’s history has ever claimed as much from the taxpayer as Freebie Freer.

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