Freesteel Blog » Various FOI nonsense

Various FOI nonsense

Wednesday, August 20th, 2008 at 4:22 pm Written by:

Several of my FOI requests have matured while I was away, following my adventures with the Audit Commission Act.


A slightly annoyed response from the House of Lords put me right about my stupid belief that there was a set of printing presses running on cowhide on the premises of Westminster. I have now requested details in the TSO contract stipulating that vellum must be used, and preventing them from producing it in a 0.0001pt typeface so as not to create waste. I ranted about this topic in June following my discovery of a stupid vote in Parliament in 1999 over the issue.

Now if we could have a debate about publishing Acts and Bills in XML and funding it with the cost savings of not doing it on cow-hide, then we could move forward.

BBC secrecy

As I observed to them, the BBC operates a very detailed database of whole website commissions, creative inputs, content ingest costs, application technologies, content rights, customised software licences and contractors/freelancer/sole traders engaged on a “deliverables” basis — in order to verify its Quota Requirement of External Spend on Future Media & Technology, which was reported as being 31%.

However, following “considerable consultation” with the new media industry, it was agreed that a set of virtually useless performance metrics could be provided which would “be helpful” to the industry whilst not compromising commercial confidentiality — which they then didn’t publish.

They gave out the three page document of what they could publish (which I didn’t find very helpful), but couldn’t be bothered to gather any details about said “considerable consultation” which resulted in this surprising level of non-disclosure. So it’s remains a secret as to which companies told them that their business had to be secret.

Rother District Council

The floodgates of information were finally opened by the Interim Solicitor when he got a letter from the ICO telling him to behave. This letter, and many others, was disclosed under a request for all communications about the whatdotheyknow website.

I’d been concerned by the threat in all the correspondence that “any application for consent to re-use information will be considered under the Re-use of Public Sector Information Regulations 2005, but if consent is given a charge may be made to you” and made a request following a close reading of the Regulations.

The reply was finally satisfactory and pointed to this page detailing their Re-use of Public Sector Information policy. As I suspected, there has so far been no re-use of Rother District public sector information, and no plans for any in the future. I think it’s a fresh document, and shares some words (also with the Regulation) with this statement on the Audit Commission website.

You’d think there would by now be a central service where all these legal and policy issues could be shared between the local authorities.

Mouchel Parkman

I’m digging into partnership contracts with this company and local authorities. Rochdale and Knowsly have asked for extentions to their 20 statutory days to cleanse them of “commercially confidential” data.

I really need to send in my complaint to the ICO about Liverpool’s exemptions on same contract. The delay is because I have to fill in a crappy Word Document complaints form which doesn’t render properly in Open Office. I hate these filling in of word processed forms. Must get on the case soon.

Liverpool continues to flatly disregard FOI requests for Liverpool Direct contracts, IPS Services contracts, and a really old one from early in the development of the webpage, Veolia contract.

And finally

Cambridgeshire council has a contract document that’s too big to email. Interesting puzzle. This request came about from an investigation the way PFI is imposed onto Local Councils who would otherwise have the common sense not to have anything to do with this expensive exercise in corporate welfare.

My related request for all the PFI credits given out by central government in order to subsidize the scam (and it’s probably subsidy in the form of withdrawing central government grants and then giving them back with the stipulation that it must only be squandered on a PFI project) got granted.

Rather handily, the FOI officer writes:

“In the past individual sponsoring departments have often produced news releases when new allocations were made and, as you say, individual local authorities have also frequently publicised the figures. There is therefore no reason not to bring this information together in a collated form.

I have therefore arranged for the list of PFI contracts on this department’s website (at to be revised so that in future it includes PFI credit amounts.”

Well, that’s progress. Some day we’ll be able to turn it out on a map.


  • 1. John Eveson replies at 10th October 2008, 11:46 am :

    Julian ….Why are you interested in (seemingly critical of) the use of cow hide? As I understand it the vellum is a product of the food industry. It is proven to last several hundred years (there are several stored to date going back several centuries)and unlike the digital product is not subject to the upheavals of changes in standards and formats etc. Just a point!

    With my regards

  • 2. Julian replies at 10th October 2008, 12:37 pm :

    The answer is really quite straight-forward and reasonable. I strongly support the free our bills campaign which would represent a serious improvement in the accessibility and scrutiny of legislation to people today. The business of managing legislation hasn’t changed since 1800 — while IT has advanced beyond all recognition.

    While it might be interesting to have the Finance Act 2001 still readable to someone in the year 2501 — should they give a damn — why isn’t half of this attention given to making this information accessible through all the modern tools available to people today, to whom it actually matters?

    I have nothing against printing things on cow hide, as such. The issue is that of all the debates, votes and stipulations by Parliament regarding the the publication of legislation, the only thing it has ever been about is vellum!

  • 3. John Eveson replies at 10th October 2008, 2:02 pm :


    So its not that you are against the vellum product but that you are for a more usable electronic version in addition. Fair point entirely.

    Many thanks


  • 4. Julian replies at 10th October 2008, 2:38 pm :

    That’s not how I would put it. I want a proper usable electronic version available now for people to use today, the budget and resources for which could immediately be diverted from the vellum supply funds — if no other money is forthcoming.

    If if we’re concerned about people being able to read these Acts 500 years in the future when anyway London is underwater, we have the technology to etch them on platinum disks in a way that could be projected by candle light if necessary and last 5000 years.

    Only after that could we consider the printing of Acts on vellum purely on the grounds of historical tradition, no more practical than the uniform of the guards at Buckingham Palace who wear stuffed bears on their heads.

    Can I ask what your interest is in vellum anyway? And can I count on your support for the Free our Bills campaign?

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