Thursday, 21 June 2018

Glasgow, FOI and Equal Pay



Here is a letter I've just sent to Glasgow City Council in respect of an outstanding FOI Request regarding the circumstances surrounding the payment of £120,000 to allow a senior official to access her pension early.

I should have received this information weeks ago, so if I don't get a straight answer by 12 noon tomorrow (Friday), I'm off to the Scottish information Commissioner (SIC). 

21 June 2018
Carole Forrest
Director of Governance and Solicitor to the Council
Glasgow City Council


Dear Ms Forrest

FoI Review Request

I refer to my FOISA Review Request dated 22 May 2018, a copy of which is attached for easy reference.

Glasgow City Council has failed, yet again, to respond within the time limits laid down by the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 which means the City Council is breaking the law and also is making a complete mockery of its own policy to behave openly and transparently in respect of Council records and its decision-making processes.  

I find this behaviour quite shocking and unprofessional, I have to say, and it is difficult to see this as anything other than deliberate obstruction on the part of council officials.

If I do not receive the information I have requested by 12 noon on Friday 22 June 2018, I will raise the matter with the Scottish Information Commissioner (SIC).

I look forward to your response and would be grateful if you could reply to me by email at: markirvine@compuserve.com

Kind regards



Mark Irvine


-----Original Message-----
From: Mark Irvine <markirvine@compuserve.com>
To: carole.forrest <carole.forrest@ced.glasgow.gov.uk>; FOIreviews <FOIreviews@glasgow.gov.uk>
Sent: Tue, May 22, 2018 4:31 pm
Subject: Fwd: FOISA Review Request


22 May 2018

Carole Forrest
Director of Governance and Solicitor to the Council
Glasgow City Council


Dear Ms Forrest

FoI Review Request

I refer to my FOISA Request to the Council's chief executive Annemarie O'Donnell dated 20 April 2018, a copy of which is attached for easy reference.

In view of the Council's failure to respond within the time limits laid down by FOISA I would now like to initiate a formal Review Request.

I look forward to your response to my Review Request and would be grateful if you could reply to me by email at: markirvine@compuserve.com

Kind regards



Mark Irvine


-----Original Message-----
From: Mark Irvine <markirvine@compuserve.com>
To: annemarie.odonnell <annemarie.odonnell@ced.glasgow.gov.uk>; foi <foi@glasgow.gov.uk>
Sent: Fri, Apr 20, 2018 3:05 pm
Subject: Fwd: FOISA Request

20 April 2018

Annemarie O'Donnell
Chief Executive
Glasgow City Council
 

Dear Ms O'Donnell
 
FOISA Request

I refer to the letter below from John Dickson, Executive Compliance Officer, and would like to make the following request under the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002. 

1) Please provide me the name and job title of the Council official who recommended that Glasgow City Council should pay £120,079 to compensate the Local Government Pension Scheme for allowing the Council's former executive Director of Finance, Lynn Brown, to access her pension benefits early?

2) Please provide me with the written explanation for this recommendation and the process by which the expenditure of this large sum of public money approved? 

3) Please confirm how long the former Executive Director of Finance would otherwise have had to wait to access her pension benefits, if it were not for this generous use of public funds? 

I look forward to your reply and would be grateful if you could respond to me by e-mail at: markirvine@compuserve.com
Kind regards
 
 
Mark Irvine 


Mobile - 07947 795222


-----Original Message-----
From: Dickson, John (Revenues) (Revenues) <John.Dickson@glasgow.gov.uk>
To: markirvine <markirvine@compuserve.com>
Sent: Wed, Apr 18, 2018 11:57 am
Subject: FOI Request

 
Financial Services
Glasgow City Council
Room 10
City Chambers,
Glasgow  G2
Phone 0141 287 8186
Fax 0141 287 9568
 
Corporate Services
Glasgow City Council
City Chambers
George Square
Glasgow   G2  1DU

Phone 0141 287 8186

Fax 0141 287 4575
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Date  18 April 2018
 
 
Mr Mark Irvine,
 
 
Sent by email to: markirvine@compuserve.com
 
 
 
Dear Mr Irvine,
 

Freedom Of Information  Request

 
I refer to your Freedom of Information Request dated 21 March 2018, wherein you asked that certain information be supplied to you, namely :-
 
“I refer to the Annual Accounts of Glasgow City Council for the year to 31 March 2017 and, specifically, to Paragraph 5.2 (Page 131) which deals with the pension benefits of senior council employees.
 
1) Please explain the basis of the £134,147 employer pension contribution paid in respect of the Executive Director of Finance, Lynn Brown? I note the figure increased to £134,147 in 2017 from £26,116 in 2016.
 
2) Please confirm whether this payment was made in respect of 'added years' and what impact this payment had on the Executive Director's pension benefits?
 
3) Please provide a copy of the council correspondence or the official council report which recommended that the Executive Director should be awarded 'added years'.
 
 
The Council is treating your request as a request under the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002.
 
The information you have requested is as follows :
  
1) Please explain the basis of the £134,147 employer pension contribution paid in respect of the Executive Director of Finance, Lynn Brown? I note the figure increased to £134,147 in 2017 from £26,116 in 2016.
 
Ø  The sum of £134,147 as quoted in the annual accounts comprised of £14,068 employer contributions before the Executive Director of Finance retired on 30 September 2016 and £120,079 as a one off payment to the Local Government Pension Scheme as recompense for the early release of pension rights
 
2) Please confirm whether this payment was made in respect of 'added years' and what impact this payment had on the Executive Director's pension benefits?
 
Ø  The executive Director of Finance, Lynn Brown was not awarded “added years”
 
3) Please provide a copy of the council correspondence or the official council report which recommended that the Executive Director should be awarded 'added years'.
 
Ø  Not applicable
 
The Council accordingly feels that it has complied in full with your request.  However, if you feel that this is not the case or have any questions relating to information contained within the spreadsheet, I can be contacted at the noted e-mail address or on telephone number 0141-287-8186.
 
However, should you be dissatisfied with the way Glasgow City Council has dealt with your request you are entitled to require the council to review its decision. Please note that for a review to take place you must:
 
Lodge a written requirement for a review within 40 working days of the date of this letter. Include a correspondence address and a description of the
original request and the reason why you are dissatisfied.
 
Address your request to the :
 
Director of Governance and Solicitor to the Council
Glasgow City Council
City Chambers
George Square
Glasgow G2 1DU
 
 
You will receive notice of the results of the review within 20 working days of receipt of your request.  The notice will state the decision reached by the reviewing officer as well as details of how to appeal to the Scottish Information Commissioner if you are still dissatisfied with the Council’s response.  You must request an internal review by the Council before a complaint can be directed to the Scottish Information Commissioner.  For your information at this stage, an appeal can be made to the Scottish Information Commissioner by contacting her office as follows if you do remain dissatisfied with the outcome of the Council’s review decision -  
 
Address: Kinburn Castle, Doubledykes Road, St Andrews, KY16 9DS.
Telephone: 01334 464610
You can also use the Scottish Information Commissioner’s online appeal service to make an application for a decision:
 
Please note that you cannot make an appeal to the Scottish Information Commissioner until you have first requested an internal review by the Council.
 
 
If you wish to submit a complaint to the Council in relation to the manner in which it has handled your request for information then you can do so by requesting that the Council review its decision. Details of how to request a review are set out in the above paragraph “Right of Review”.
 
Yours sincerely,
 
 
John Dickson
Executive Compliance Officer
Financial Services


  

Glasgow's 'Unfit for Purpose' WPBR



Stefan Cross hit the nail on the head with his recent Facebook post on Glasgow City Council's decision to scrap its discredited WPBR pay scheme.

In reality the Council has only shifted its position after receiving a long-overdue and terrible kicking (in August 2017) at the Court of Session, Scotland's highest civil court, where three senior judges came to the unanimous decision that the WPBR was 'unfit for purpose'.

The same three judges (in December 2017) also threw out, unanimously again, the Council's application asking for 'leave to appeal' this decision to the UK Supreme Court in London which finally forced the Council's political leaders to act.  

But as Stefan Cross explains the 'litigation' over equal pay has not actually been abandoned - quite the opposite in fact.

What's happened is that the Council has given up any further appeal to the UK Supreme Court which was the option favoured by senior council officials - i.e. the same officials who fought tooth and nail to defend the WPBR for years.

So while the Council's commitment to a negotiated settlement is good news a battle is still being fought behind the scenes and senior officials are still fighting a rearguard action to retain elements of the WPBR.

For example, its Non Standard Working Pattern (NSWP) payments including the notorious 37 hour 'rule' which was clearly designed to discriminate against female dominated jobs, given that the vast majority of women workers in the Council are contracted to work for less than 37 hours a week.

What this boils down to is that the Council is still trying to deny, or at the very least minimise, the size of the pay gap between male and female jobs. If successful, this argument would have the effect of reducing significantly or eliminating altogether people's claims for compensation.

Now council officials are making this case and they have to be doing so with the knowledge, if not the full approval, of the Council's political leadership which strikes me as rather odd.

Because if you discuss the NSWP's 37 hour 'rule', for example, with individual politicians (Councillors , MSPs and MPs), they all agree it is a blatantly discriminatory and contrived practice which ought to be scrapped immediately.

Yet not one Glasgow politician, of any political party, has taken a principled stand and spoken out in support of their local constituents on this issue - up until now at least.

So August and September will indeed be crucial months because if the Council has not put forward firm settlement proposals by that stage, there is no chance of reaching a settlement before the end of 2018.

And if this happens, litigation will start up again in the employment tribunals and the prospect of industrial action will be back on the table with a vengeance.

  

PROMISES, PROMISES - NOW DELIVER

Susan Aitken published a very interesting article in the evening Times. For the first time she acknowledged A4ES, which is an improvement and she called WPBR “not fit for purpose”, the exact description Mark Irvine has used ever since the second Court of Session decision, only 10 months ago. She has also recommitted the council to the settlement timetable. 


Those are the good points.

However, some half truths and falsehoods. The timetable has NOT been agreed. Indeed the proposal sent to us is not acceptable. This is to be discussed next Tuesday and needs to be much more precise and demanding. So not quite true.

She also says that they took the decision to “abandon litigation“. That is a lie. They agreed to abandon their appeal, but the litigation is alive and kicking. Indeed the council is due to send us their defence of NSWP to us next week. As NSWP is the core of WPBR, which they now accept is “not fit for purpose”, it’s a very odd situation. We will also be discussing this next week.

Not only has litigation not been abandoned but both sides have agreed that if settlement proves not to be possible then we have to go back to tribunal and that process needs to begin now because the tribunals are suffering massive delays.

So these are good promises but the council now needs to deliver. That means them devoting more time and resources, and more importantly actually addressing the issues, not just processes.

Now that the holidays are approaching there will be a lull, but August and September are going to be crucial months


Stefan


Susan Aitken: Council pay system is no longer fit for purpose


By Susan Aitken @SusaninLangside - Evening Times


SUSAN AITKEN

THE fire at the Glasgow School of Art has left the city and anyone with an affection for our heritage and our creative vitality absolutely devastated.

The support from far and wide has been overwhelming.

In the days ahead I will lead on how Team Glasgow will provide support to affected businesses, property owners and residents and begin the process of returning one of Scotland’s great thoroughfares to something approaching normality.

I will keep the public and all impacted abreast of any developments. But it is also vital we keep the work of the city council going during this upheaval.

Almost five months ago politicians from all parties represented on Glasgow City Council took the momentous decision to abandon litigation and resolve the decade-long equal pay dispute through negotiation.

It was the first instance of politicians in this country taking control of this fraught and complex matter.

We agreed with those representing claimants, trade union Unison and legal firm Action 4 Equality, which both led the legal action, and the GMB union, that, in the main, negotiations would remain confidential. But I also pledged that I would inform staff and our citizens when there was something significant to announce. We have reached that first real milestone.

At this stage, the structural requirements for a process as significant as this, the legal issues, the methodology, the job evaluation, are now falling into place. We are proceeding to the business end of the negotiations.

No-one was ever under any illusion that a resolution to equal pay would be quick or easy. And it hasn’t been. But there is now a real sense of momentum, a view that progress is being made and that we have something to tell those who matter most in this, our staff. And it is for our staff and the vital services they deliver that we need to collectively manage these negotiations.

Staff have now been informed that the council has agreed with the trade unions of the need to replace our current workforce pay and benefits system (WPBR). It is simply no longer fit for purpose.

In the coming days, and again in consultation with the trade unions, a report will be published ahead of next week’s City Administration Committee seeking the political authority necessary to abandon WPBR.

Work on a fairer replacement will commence immediately after that and continue over the summer. Once identified, it would be two or three further years before it could be fully implemented. We mustn’t repeat the mistakes of a decade ago and expose ourselves to fresh inequalities with another flawed system. This is what we are paying the price for. We need time to do this properly.

It is crucial to stress both my personal and the Council’s commitment to agreeing with the unions any new scheme and how it will be implemented.

And as Council Leader I am committed to implementing a fully funded, fair and just pay and grading scheme which pays equally for equal work and which our employees have confidence in.

In addition, we have recently agreed an overall plan with clear timescales for the completion of the various stages of the process and the Council remains committed to, as best as possible, agreeing a settlement figure by the close of this calendar year.

We will likely need two review points to ensure we’re on track and I am actively discussing how best to do this with officers.


Glasgow, Equal Pay and Dead Parrots (19/06/18)




The Evening Times reports that Glasgow City Council is finally accepting that its WPBR pay scheme really is a 'dead parrot'.

Now no mention is made of the fact that the Court of Session, Scotland's highest civil court, condemned Glasgow's WPBR pay arrangements as 'unfit for purpose' way back in August 2017 - after a huge legal battle.

Nor is any mention made of the fact that the Council's discredited pay scheme was only put to the sword after a fantastic campaign by Glasgow's equal pay claimants - supported by A4ES, GMB and Unison.

A casual reader of the Evening Times could be forgiven for thinking that this decision was reached by 'enlightened' council officials and political leaders who woke up one day and decided - all by themselves - that the workforce suddenly deserved fair and transparent pay arrangements, untainted by the blatant sex discrimination associated with the WPBR.  

So since the Council is not giving credit where credit is due, let me say a big THANK YOU to the thousands of equal ay claimants across Glasgow who made this day possible.  

  

Glasgow - FOI, Senior Officials and Equal Pay



Here is a recent freedom information (FOI) request to Glasgow City Council asking for details of the expenses claims submitted by senior officials representing the Council on foreign trips over the past four years.

More fascinating detail to follow on this subject soon - so watch this space.

15 May 2018


Annemarie O'Donnell
Chief Executive
Glasgow City Council


Dear Ms O'Donnell

FOISA Request

I would like to make the following request under the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002. 

1) Please provide me the details of the expenses claims submitted by senior officials who have represented Glasgow City Council on foreign trips over the past four years?

2) Please include the details of the expenses claims submitted by senior officials of Glasgow City Council's ALEOs in your response?

I understand this information has already been provided to the Sunday Herald newspaper, so the information clearly exsts, and I would be grateful if you could respond to me by e-mail at: markirvine@compuserve.com
Kind regards


Mark Irvine 

  



Glasgow - Speed of a Glacier (20/05/18)



Here's a great article about an 'expenses investigation' in Glasgow City Council which appeared in The Sunday Herald four weeks ago today. 

Now unless I've missed something there has been no update to explain the outcome of the investigation or the fate of the senior official who was reported as being "on leave" while the investigation was taking place.  

If the senior official is still on leave, this has to be costing the Council somewhere around £3,000 every week (£150,000 a year) and who knows when this period of leave started because I'm pretty sure that it was the FOI enquiry from Peter Swindon and The Sunday Herald which triggered the Council's decision to investigate the matter.

So what is the bill so far (£12,000 to £24,000 - more or less?) and just how long can it take senior council officials to investigate one of their own colleagues and decide on a course of action? 

I don't know, but it's taken several weeks so far and as well as being a terrible waste of public money, it is yet another example of Scotland's largest council moving at the 'speed of a glacier' when important issues are at stake.

So I decided to ask the same FOI question put to the Council by The Sunday Herald in an effort to chase things along. 

I'd also like to take this opportunity of reminding readers that this is the same Council which has refused my FOI request into the actions of senior officials when Glasgow's 'unfit for purpose' WPBR pay scheme was introduced - on the grounds that it would cost more than £600 to provide me with this information.  


  

God Above, Glasgow! (22/04/18)


Here's a link to great story in The Sunday Herald on which I'll have more to say later today.

In the meantime, go out and buy a copy of the newspaper or access the full article online (via the link below) because Peter Swindon's report on foreign trips by senior officials in Glasgow City Council is dynamite, if you ask me.

The newspaper paper claims that in the past four years Glasgow City Council bosses have been travelling around the world on business class flights and first class train fares while staying in top hotels in London, Brussels, Berlin, Helsinki, Paris, Cannes, New York, Orlando, Detroit, Toronto, Auckland and Seoul.

And yes, this is the same Council which has refused to answer my FOI request about the WPBR on the grounds that it would cost the Council more than £600 to provide the relevant information!

God above! - does the hypocrisy of these people have no end?

Make sure also to read the post below from the blog site archive on 'Rewarding Failure' which reveals that Glasgow's small group of chief officials have earned over £27 million during the lifetime of the WPBR pay scheme - not including expenses, of course. 

  

Expenses investigation launched at Scotland's largest council

By Peter Swindon @PeterSwindon The Sunday Herald

SCOTLAND'S largest local authority has launched an investigation into expenses claimed by senior directors after a series of freedom of information requests by the Sunday Herald uncovered evidence that thousands of pounds were spent on foreign trips.

In the last four years Glasgow City Council bosses flew to London, Brussels, Berlin, Helsinki, Paris, Cannes, New York, Orlando, Detroit, Toronto, Auckland and Seoul, often staying at top hotels and claiming for the cost of pricey meals.

Glasgow - Senior Officials and Equal Pay (23/04/18)


Here is the full version of The Sunday Herald article on the investigation which is now underway into the expenses claims of senior officials at Glasgow City Council.

A number of issues jumped out at me straight away including:
  1. How long has the current system been in place and how is it possible that "approval (for foreign trips) is not always made in writing"?
  2. How is it possible for a spokesperson to tell the newspaper that the Council does not always hold written records? 
  3. If "unspent currency" must be handed back within seven days of returning from a trip, who authorised handing out these 'wads of cash' before a trip takes place and what are they for?
  4. Who authorised officials to travel by business class air fares, first class train fares and to stay in top hotels? 
  5. Who authorised a system in which spending not supported by receipts?
  6. Is the Executive Director (Richard Brown) on annual leave, special leave or a precautionary suspension?
  7. How long will the Council take to conclude its investigation and 'come clean' over what has been happening with these trips?
I can't believe that any other part of the 'Council Family' would be allowed to operate in this way.

If you ask me, this shambles makes the Council look even more ridiculous over its refusal to answer my FOI request about the circumstances surrounding the creation of the WPBR - on the grounds that the cost to the Council would be more that £600. 

  

Expenses investigation launched at Scotland's largest council
By Peter Swindon @PeterSwindon - The Sunday Herald



SCOTLAND'S largest local authority has launched an investigation into expenses claimed by senior directors after a series of freedom of information requests by the Sunday Herald uncovered evidence that thousands of pounds were spent on foreign trips.

In the last four years Glasgow City Council bosses flew to London, Brussels, Berlin, Helsinki, Paris, Cannes, New York, Orlando, Detroit, Toronto, Auckland and Seoul, often staying at top hotels and claiming for the cost of pricey meals.

Council sources revealed cash has been paid back following the Sunday Herald’s Freedom of Information request, but the local authority said details could not be revealed until they have fully investigated spending.

One well-placed council source said there is now a “desire to clean things up” at Glasgow City Council and “no one is going to protect" anyone now.

The cash-strapped local authority is in the grip of a funding crisis with a budget gap of £20m, and council tax paid by people who live in the city is set to rise by three per cent.

Council staff are overseen by Chief Executive Annemarie O’Donnell and a small team of directors paid more than £100,000 each. Overseas trips must be authorised by O’Donnell but the council said “approval is not always made in writing” so the council does not always hold written records.

Directors can claim for travel, hotel costs, conference fees, meals and taxi fares, and receive currency advances for unexpected expenses. Unspent currency must be paid back within seven days of returning from a trip.

The local authority provided the Sunday Herald with a list of expenses claimed by senior management in the last four years following a Freedom of Information request. It is understood the investigation is centred on spending by Executive Director of Development and Regeneration Services Richard Brown, who is currently on leave, and Assistant Director Tom Turley, who is running the department.

Council insiders are believed to be unhappy about some of the claims which include the cost of business class flights, first class train fares and top hotels in foreign cities. There was also spending that is not supported by receipts, according to sources at the City Chambers.

One source, who asked not to be named, said: “There is an ongoing investigation which covers two chief officers.”

When the Sunday Herald formally requested further information about how much has been paid back to the council following the initial Freedom of Information request, the local authority said they could not reveal figures.

The latest FoI response, which came from the council’s executive compliance office in the financial services department, said: “Release of information relevant to these investigations at this time would have a significantly disruptive effect…we believe that there is a real risk that the effectiveness of the investigation would be critically undermined by disclosure of some of the information you have requested. This would be to the material detriment of the effectiveness of improving an organisation’s operations, processes and policies.”

The statement went on to recognise the public interest in disclosing details about which directors paid back money, how much was paid back and when it was paid back, but the statement said there is also “a significant public interest in allowing internal investigations to take place” and the release of information was blocked.

The Sunday Herald has chosen not to publish a breakdown of spending by senior directors until the investigation concludes. A council spokesman said: “It wouldn’t be appropriate to comment on an ongoing investigation.

Glasgow's MSPs and MPs (22/04/18)



I shared the link to my 'God Above, Glasgow' blog post with all Glasgow's MSPs and MPs - along with the following Twitter message:

Glasgow City Council is mired in a expenses scandal involving chief officials and foreign trips - while refusing to answer an FOI request about the Council's 'unfit for purpose' pay arrangements on the grounds that it would cost more than £600! 

Now let's see who is willing to speak out and call a spade a spade - because this is the height of hypocrisy if you ask me.

Glasgow has eight constituency MSPs (all SNP) and seven constituency MPs (6 SNP and 1 Labour).