I watched the last episode of Stephen Frears excellent 'A Very English Scandal' last night which is really a tale of the extraordinary lengths some people will go to - in a selfish effort to protect themselves instead of doing the right thing.
As I watched some remarkable performances including one from Hugh Grant (who knew he could act so well?) I was struck by the parallels in Glasgow where a powerful elite is fighting desperately to prevent senior council officials from being held properly to account for their actions over the introduction of Glasgow's Workforce Pay and Benefits Review (WPBR).
Now this matters because Glasgow's WPBR scheme stands condemned as 'unfit for purpose' by the unanimous judgment of the Court of Session, Scotland's highest civil court, which means that for the past 12 years Scotland's largest council has been operating discriminatory pay arrangements.
The Council's current chief executive (Annemarie O'Donnell) insists that senior officials acted 'in good faith' at the time and that their intention back in 2007 was to tackle gender based pay discrimination, but this claim sits rather oddly with the so-called 37 hour 'rule' which was clearly designed to discriminate against the City Council's largely female workforce, few of whom are (or were) contracted to work more than 37 hours every week.
Logically, the obvious way to prove this point, one way or the other, is for the City Council to 'come clean' by releasing the relevant information, but so far senior officials have refused to do so even though the current SNP-led administration has a policy of being 'open and transparent' when it comes to decision making.
The 'made in Glasgow' scandal is that the whole equal pay debacle looks as if it will end up costing the Council a huge sum of public money, perhaps running to hundreds of millions of pounds - money that should have been in the pockets of its lowest paid workers years ago.
And this scandalous state of affairs has been presided over by highly paid officials many of whom have left the Council's employment in recent years with eye watering 'golden goodbyes'.
All of which means the workforce has very right to be angry and it ought to mean the city's councillors, MSPs and MPs are angry as well because the Council's behaviour over the past 12 years has been the real scandal - and what's needed now is a determined effort to hold those responsible to account.
Because if you can't be sure that senior officials acted in 'good faith' when the WPBR was introduced, how can the same group of people now be trusted to put things right?
I mean it would be a bit like Jeremy Thorpe, a tortured soul admittedly, not being required to give evidence in his own defence.
Glasgow - Did Senior Officials Act In Good Faith?
Here is my letter of 'appeal' to the Scottish Information Commissioner over Glasgow City Council's refusal to release information which would explain the role-played by senior officials who commissioned and approved the Council's 'unfit for purpose' WPBR pay scheme.
I would point out that in recent years senior Glasgow council officials have been awarded vast additional sums of money from discretionary payments to their pension pots, but in the case of this particular FOI request the WPBR the Council is refusing to release the details I have requested on the grounds that this would cost more than £600.
If you ask me, council officials are hugely exaggerating the cost of retrieval not because of the cost to the Council - but because the information I am requesting is likely to show that senior council officials did not act in 'good faith' at the time the WPBR pay scheme was introduced back in 2005/07.
As regular readers know, the WPBR scheme was subsequently condemned as ‘unfit for purpose’ (in 2017) by the Court of Session, Scotland’s highest civil court, yet all this time later the Council has still to act so the WPBR's discriminatory pay practices remain in place - including its notorious 37 hour 'rule'.
Please read the post below from the blog site archive which highlights the fact that just six senior officials have left the City Council's employment in recent years with Exit Packages worth an staggering £1,389,079.
Yet Glasgow's officials are now refusing to release what should be public information on the grounds that this would cost Scotland's largest council more than £600.
What a joke for a council that says it wants to be a 'world leader' when it comes to openness and transparency, so this is a good issue to be raising with Glasgow's eighty five elected councillors along with the city's MSPs and MPs.
11 May 2018
Scottish Information Commissioner
By email to: email@example.com
Dear Mr Fitzhenry
Glasgow City Council (GCC) – FOISA Appeal
I would like to make an application for an adjudication by the Scottish Information Commissioner in connection with an FOISA Request registered with Glasgow City Council on 20 February 2018.
The grounds of my application are as follows:
- In my view Glasgow City Council has failed in its public duty to respond helpfully to a valid information request raised under the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002.
- The City Council claims it does not possess a ready made ‘list’ of the information I requested and so is under no obligation to provide any of the information specified in my original FOI Request, or in subsequent emails responding to the Council’s requests for clarification.
- In making this claim, the Council admits that the information does exist, either in the Council’s archive or ‘open’ files, but goes on to argue that it would be too costly to retrieve this information. As a result, the Council’s final response is that my FOI Request is exempt under Section 12 (1) of FOISA.
- I disagree with the Council’s assertions because if the information does exist in the GCC archives, logically, it must already exist in some kind of catalogued or ‘easy to access’ format designed to assist with data retrieval.
- On the other hand if the information is held in an open file (or files) for ongoing operational reasons, the task of responding positively to my FOI request must also be straightforward, as the WPBR information is historic, unique and easy to identify via the relevant council officials.
- Yet the Council is trying to portray my request as the FOI equivalent of ‘searching for a needle in a haystack’, as if the information in question is impossible to identity and/or collate easily. In effect, the Council has made absolutely no effort to try and address my request short of simply saying ‘No’.
- The Council’s senior archivist (Dr Irene O’Brien), or one of her staff could, in my view, easily identify any information held in the Council’s archive and could also confirm the nature of this information without incurring significant costs.
- The same is true if the information is held in an open file (or files) because a relevant official of the Council could easily identify the nature of the (non-archived) information which is still being held and used in 2018.
- In any event, wherever the Council is holding this information, I do not accept that providing details of what information is held, in archived or open files, would cost the Council more than £600. Nor has the Council provided a convincing explanation for its assertion that providing this information would actually cost more than £600.
- In my view, the Council is exaggerating the cost of retrieval because the information I have asked for may prove damaging and/or embarrassing to council officials over their role in introducing a controversial WPBR pay scheme in 2005/07. The WPBR scheme was subsequently condemned as ‘unfit for purpose’ (in 2017) by the Court of Session, Scotland’s highest civil court.
I look forward to hearing from you in due course and if you require any further details or clarification at this stage, please contact me by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
List of enclosures x 8
- Original FOI request dated 20 February 2018
- Chase-up letter to Glasgow City Council dated 23 February 2018
- FOI Review Request dated 21 March 2018 (GCC failed to respond to my FOI Request within 20 working days)
- Letter from GCC dated 21 March 2018 seeking clarification
- Letter to GCC dated 23 March 2018 responding to request for clarification
- Letter from GCC dated 27 March 2018 seeking further clarification
- Letter to GCC dated 29 March 2018 responding to request for further clarification
- Finally response letter from GCC dated 13 April 2018
Glasgow - What We Know, So Far (07/05/18)
Here's what we know, so far, regarding my FOI requests on the 'Exit Packages' paid to senior officials of Glasgow City Council.
In 2010/11 the council's former chief solicitor (Ian Drummond) was awarded 'added years' which boosted his already generous pension pot by £250,000 according to my calculations
Total - £250,000
Officials 2 and 3
In 2013/14 two GCC officials left with Exit Packages worth £310,000 (in cash value) and with the pension boost of added years valued at £141,000.
Officials 4 and 5
In 2013/14 another two officials left with Exit Packages worth £380,000 (in cash value) and with the pension boost of added years worth £179,000
Total - £1,010,000 (£451,000 + £559,000)
In 2016/17 the council's former director of finance (Lynn Brown) was 'gifted' the sum of £120,079 to allow her to retire early and access her pension early.
Total - £129,079
Now these officials were all in post during the long fight for equal pay in Glasgow City Council and were part of the senior management group which fought tooth and nail to resist the equal pay claims of their lowest paid employees - all the way to the Court of Session which decided that Glasgow's pay arrangements are 'unfit for purpose.
Yet this small group of just 6 senior Glasgow officials walked away with Exit Packages worth £1,389,079 which is quite astonishing if you ask me, especially given their role in protecting the interests of all council employees - including those at the bottom of the pay ladder.
Please note that Glasgow City Council is currently refusing to answer my FOI request regarding the role that senior officials played in overseeing and introducing the WPBR - on the grounds that it would cost more than £600 to provide this information.