Sunday, 3 June 2018

Glasgow City Council and FOI



Glasgow City Council continues to look ridiculous over its policy aim of becoming a 'world leader' in terms of openness and transparency while senior officials continue to drag their feet in relation to freedom of information (FOI).

Here's a recent example from the blog site archive involving a senior official who has been on 'special leave' for weeks while the Council investigates expenses claims arising from foreign trips.

I have asked the Council to provide me with the same information requested by The Sunday Herald because I think it's absurd that this investigation has been allowed to drag on for such a long time.

I'll share my FOI request on the blog site later this week.    

  

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).