Freesteel Blog » Take it to the next level

Take it to the next level

Monday, May 28th, 2007 at 3:24 pm Written by:

What do you get for making your best FOI request ever?

Dear Mr Todd,

Your Freedom of Information Request and complaint

I am sorry that you were not satisfied with the response to your request for information. I have investigated this matter further.

I find that the response sent by my colleague, on the 12th April 2007 was correct and comprehensive, and exemptions to disclosure were applied correctly.

No statutory obligation regarding disclosure has been ignored. Although the Freedom Of Information Act does encourage disclosure where “confidentiality” may have been suggested, in these particular circumstances, the public interest does not, in my opinion, outweigh the need for confidentiality as set out in [the] letter to you.

As the contract you seek access to is a current contract, which is still running and not “concluded”, then we have exempted from disclosure the sections of the contract where the commercial interests of the contractor may be prejudiced were we to release the information you are seeking.

You have now exhausted the council’s complaints procedure. If you are still not satisfied with the response you have received then you have the right to complain to the Information Commissioner, details of your right to complain can be found at . [link still incorrect].

Yours sincerely

Senior Solicitor
For Head of Legal Services

Oh well. Luckily this is only about corporate corruption in the supply of over-priced and sub-standard (microsoft powered) ICT equipment for the purposes of educating as few of the next generation as possible in the art of computer programming, and not something as important as, say, somebody’s liberty.

Whatever the cause, the psychotic legal attitude is always the same in the way that every justification gets twisted — however dubiously — into an argument in favour of the public interest.

It’s not in the public interest to reveal this contract, because we signed a piece of paper that says we could be sued if we did so, and that would not be in the public interest.

We cannot let innocent people out of jail whom we locked up on the basis of bad evidence because it would not be in the public interest for the authorities to admit they had been lying, and the public might lose confidence in the only body that had the power to fight for their security in this time of war.

So, here goes:

To the Information Commissioner’s Office

Dear Sir,

Complaints regarding Bristol City Council:

1. Claims to have “contracted out” of the FOI Act.

2. Failure to acknowledge or comply with the process of FOI disclosure detailed in its contract.

I have included the full correspondence on numbered pages. I have experienced numerous difficulties with my inquiries, resulting in a final impasse.

I have been in pursuit of details of a £8.9million contract to procure ICT equipment for schools from Northgate Information Systems announced in July 2006 (page 0). I had initially believed this was done according to EU law through a BECTA framework contract. However, it appears it was instead done through Skanska plc and a “Local Education Partnership” (page 10a).

Both the framework contract and the standard contract approved for use with Local Education Partnerships set out detailed procedures for compliance with the FOI Act which were being ignored.

On 1 November 2006 (page 1) I requested details of the contract between Bristol City Council and their educational ICT supplier (believed to be Northgate). On 1 December (page 2a) it was refused because “disclosure of this information would be a breach of confidence… and could lead to legal action against the Council… [which] would not be in the public interest”. This clear attempt to “contract out” of FOI obligations was cited again on 2 January 2007 (page 4b) and confirmed on 6 March (page 10a).

On 3 December (page 3) I asked for details relating to their decision to sign what they believed were legally binding confidentiality requirements. I repeated my request on 2 January 2007 (page 5). On 24 January (page 7a) it was refused because it would take longer than 18 hours to locate the evidence. The refusal was confirmed on 6 March (page 10b) as it had been lost “among many un-indexed boxes”.

On 20 March 2007 (page 12) I explicitly asked for the contract between Bristol City Council and the Local Education Partnership. On 12 April (page 14a) I was told I couldn’t see it because it was deemed commercially sensitive, but that I could download a copy of the approved standard form of the contract from a government website.

When I checked out this standard contract (pages17a-h) I discovered that the FOI obligations had indeed been considered and addressed by those who had drafted it. On 20 April (page 15) I informed the Council of the procedures for compliance that I had found therein. However, after the usual delay, the senior solicitor let it be known (page 16) that I had now exhausted the Council’s complaints procedures.

I hope this explains the issues clearly enough to take action. Please do not hesitate to contact me if you require further information.

Yours sincerely,
Julian Todd

What happens now is it’s supposed to get assessed by the Case Reception Unit. Hopefully I then get an acknowledgment letter and a case reference number. It’s then referred to a Case Resolution Team and allocated to a Case Resolution Officer. If they can’t resolve the issue informally, they’ll issue a decision notice.

This is known as checks and balances. A separation of powers. A system wherein it is supposedly more difficult for corrupting influences to control all areas necessary in order to turn a profit.

Corruption is the enemy.

Just as the design of a fortress is determined exactly by the type of enemy it is intended to defend against (do they have canons or spears?), the design of a system of governance is determined by the sort corruption it is intended to resist.

Oddly, it is considered impolite to mention corruption in the designs, so all notions of corruption must be put down to incompetence, bureaucratic misunderstandings, and other suspicious coincidences. It you smell a fart, it’s always the dog who did it, but the man who looks guilty has to leave the room.

For those who listen to audio podcasts, I recommend The Royalty Treatment 11 May 2007 episode of Now NPR which details the story of an official in the US government’s Minerals Management Service of the Department of the Interior who attempted to pursue a $10million underpayment of royalties by the oil company Kerr McGee (who?). Just ten million dollars! He was told to stop the investigation, and later lost his job when the department was suddenly “reorganized”. Interestingly, US law appears to have so little confidence in the regulatory authorities that there are provisions which allow for a private individual to bring a case on behalf of the government which the government doesn’t want to touch, for reasons of being corrupt (the False Claims Act, dating from the US Civil War). If you win you get rewarded with a financial percentage of the fraud that you exposed. (Do check out the top 20 cases.)

In England, our corruption is much more subtle, because the oil company would have simply have made a deal and paid up some of the money it could afford, and the official in question would get promoted to a deeply boring job where he couldn’t cause any such trouble again. Eventually, all the staff remaining in positions of importance in the civil service would be incompetent at enforcement, and yet absolutely effective at covering up for their incompetence.

The public, meanwhile, would sense that something was not quite right, yet would be unable to put its finger on it. You watch the same magic tricks on stage year after year, yet you never work out the illusion.

There’s never quite the number of £20 notes left in your wallet at the end of the day. There’s a pickpocket at work and you don’t know where. Until you learn to write everything down on a separate piece of paper as you pay for it transaction by transaction and add it up later, you will never be able to discover what is going on.

Update: Purely by coincidence, there’s a consultation paper about bringing Qui Tam into the the UK. The proposals are mostly about criminal asset recovery, and not so much concerned with the corruption by, say, the big IT companies who, through their management consultants, advise the government of their insatiable need to loot the public treasury on delivery of crap software.

If only we could take a case to court where we could visually show the software that was provided against the invoice that was issues and see a discrepancy.


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