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So, What Have I Learnt?

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Good morning folks,

As I write, the sun is creeping out from behind the cotton wool clouds, I have an adequate supply of hot coffee.  All is well in my world, or is it?

After my first full week as a bloggist what have I learnt?  I have learnt that even though I didn’t think I had a blog in me, after the first full week I seem to have rattled a few cages, so maybe I did have a blog in me, and maybe I still have some more (sorry about that).  I have also learnt that I can type with more than 2 fingers sometimes.  Sometimes the letters even appear on the screen in the right order!!  I have also learnt that there is a lot of support out there in the blogasphere for blogs such as mine.  Some write similar blogs, some offer words of encouragement and some attract whatever attention they can to the subject of the day.  I think someone once said “They also serve who only sit and Retweet” and if they didn’t, they should have done.

On a more serious note, and to get back to the real topic of this blog, what have I learnt?  I have learnt that the Freedom of Information Act is a useful tool for groups such as ours.  In theory, we can obtain all sorts of information held by the various public authorities which may be helpful to our cause..  I have also learnt that bodies such as the Home Office don’t always welcome these requests, and in my opinion, don’t treat them properly.  My experience of the Home Office is that almost never answer a query on time, when you prod them and tell them that their answer is overdue they can frequently produce it within a matter of hours.  Really? Well I don’t think so, I think it was there all along, just waiting to be fired off.  It has happened too many times to just be a coincidence.  The Home Office have also ‘misread’ a query answering only part of it, when asked for the rest of it they just award themselves another 20 days to produce a response.  Well, I’m sorry Mrs May but that is not how the Freedom of Information Act is worded, your obligation is to produce a response within 20 working days of it being received.  Don’t send out an auto-acknowledgement and then claim you hadn’t read the full question, get the staff in to do it right.  And when you get a request for a formal review of your handling of the request, that is NOT an invitation to give yourselves another 20 working days to answer the original question, it is what it is, a request for a Formal Review.

I have learnt the true value of the Queen’s Half Hour, more on this in a separate blog, but I was quite gobsmacked by the responses.

I have learnt that SOME forces appear to do anything to avoid answering an FOI request.  There are only so many exemptions you can legally invoke.  I think it’s time to Name And Shame West Yorkshire Constabulary.  I submitted an FOI request asking for details of any Staff Satisfaction Surveys carried out within their Force over the last 5 years.  Not too sensitive you may think.  Nothing there to strike fear into the hearts of the Information Keepers.  All in all a particularly benign request.  I will give you the benefit of the exact text of their response

The Freedom of Information Act 2000 obliges us to respond to requests promptly and in any case no later than 20 working days after receiving your request. We must consider firstly whether we can comply with S1(1)(a) of the Act, which is our duty to confirm whether or not the information requested is held and secondly we must comply with S1(1)(b), which is the provision of such information.
However, when a qualified exemption applies either to the confirmation or denial or the information provision and the public interest test is engaged, the Act allows the time for response to be longer than 20 working days, if the balance of such public interest is undetermined. In this case, we have not yet reached a decision on where the balance of the public interest lies in respect of either of the above obligations. We estimate that it will take an additional 20 working days to take a decision on where this balance lies.

As one of our number put it so eloquently – WTF?

How on earth can Public Interest be any sort of issue to a Staff Satisfaction Survey.  They haven’t even confirmed that they’ve carried out any.

On the other side of the coin I feel that I should Name And Shame Derbyshire and Sussex Constabularies.  They have been absolutely magnificent with their co-operation, Sussex not only supplied me with all of the information I had requested but accompanied that with a detailed spreadsheet of data.  Derbyshire felt that they couldn’t comply with my request on the grounds of cost and applied the appropriate Exemption, they did, however, supply me with as much data as they could gather within cost whereas most others just applied the Exemption and offered NO data.

Finally I have learnt that 2 out of 91 Voters think that Tom Winsor is the right man for the job, 7 out of 97 Voters think that the selection process was fair, open and transparent, and, finally, 27 out of 27 Voters thought that Police Officers should be allowed to Tweet their personal political opinions so long as it was from as personal account.

Here endeth my first week

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