Don’t Call Me Dave has received a deeply worrying e-mail from Barnet Council. Regular readers will be aware that for almost a year he has been trying to obtain details of the expenses paid to councillors since 2006, even though the council is required by law to respond to Freedom of Information requests within 20 working days.
The council intends to provide a response on 7th May - the day after the elections. How convenient!
In February, DCMD posted a blog listing the catalogue of excuses received from the council for not providing the information requested. Two weeks later, a limited amount of information was released but, since then, it has proven impossible to obtain the missing details.
In March, Chief Executive Nick Walkley wrote to DCMD acknowledging that the council’s failure to provide the information was unacceptable and promised an investigation which he said would be quick! A council officer subsequently wrote to councillors on 14th April asking them to check the figures. In response, Mayor of Barnet (who else?) sent an e-mail to the Tory councillors saying:
“PRIVATE AND POLITICAL
Is this member of the public Mr David Miller or is it Councillor Salinger continuing to make trouble for colleagues
I understand this process has cost the Borough several thousand pounds to produce these spreadsheets not in my view a sensible use of Council resources”
This e-mail was widely seen as an attempt to obstruct the democratic process and prevent the public from finding out just how much councillors have claimed in expenses. The tactic seems to have worked because despite the council’s Deputy Chief Executive writing to DCMD last week to say that the information would be provided by 30th April, the deadline has suddenly been moved to a date after the election.
It is impossible to underestimate the abuse of process which we are witnessing here. The council has deliberately and unlawfully withheld information from the public which might influence the way they cast their votes tomorrow.
This is an unprecedented scandal which requires an urgent and independent investigation by the statutory authorities. The Chief Executive will need to consider his position and any Councillors who are found to have interfered with the public’s right to information should be prosecuted and barred from ever holding public office again.