Wednesday, 11 March 2020

Glasgow - Who Guards the Guards?



In January 2019 I wrote to all (85) elected councillors in Glasgow regarding my ongoing FoI battle with senior officials over the Council's 'unfit for purpose' WPBR pay scheme.      

The heading of my letter read 'Who Guards the Guards?', but not a single councillor showed a interest in finding out more about the introduction of the WPBR and how Scotland's largest council made such a dog's dinner of equal pay. 

As I said to the Council's Director of Governance at the time:

"I would also point out that the response makes a mockery of the Council's publicly stated aim of Glasgow becoming a 'world leader' for openness and transparency because important records regarding major policy decisions such as the WPBR should be freely available to the public."

Given the recent decision from the Scottish Information Commissioner I do hope that councillors of all parties  will take recent claims about the Council's commitment to 'openness and transparency' with a giant pinch of salt.  

"I believe that elected Councillors in Glasgow should be taking a much keener interest in these matters because, in my view, the ‘hands-off’ approach adopted previously by Councillors in relation to the WPBR, and equal pay more generally, has certainly helped get the Council into the terrible mess it finds itself in today."

 


-----Original Message-----
From: Mark Irvine
To: markirvine
Sent: Mon, Jan 14, 2019 10:18 am
Subject: Quis Custodiet Ipsos Custodes? (Who Guards the Guards?)




Dear Councillor

Quis Custodiet Ipsos Custodes? (Who Guards the Guards?)

The news coverage in recent days has featured a prominent story involving potential bias or prejudice on the part of the Scottish Government which rightly so, in my view, was found to be on the wrong end of an important judgment in the Court of Session over the so-called Alex Salmond affair.

On reflection I thought elected Councillors in Glasgow might also be interested in another example much closer to home which involves the Council’s now widely discredited WPBR pay scheme. 

I enclose a copy of a letter sent to me on behalf of Carole Forrest, Director of Governance and Solicitor to the Council, which responds (albeit belatedly and only after the intervention of the Scottish Information Commissioner) to my previous FoI Review Request.

I have now registered an appeal with SIC over the Council’s refusal to release its mysterious ‘handwritten notes” which contain potentially important information about the WPBR, on which more will follow soon.

However, the point of this letter is to draw your attention to Glasgow's FoI procedures and the decision of the Director of Governance and Solicitor to the Council who has refused to answer part of my FoI Review Request on the bogus grounds that my request is ‘vexatious’.

I have asked for a review of this initial decision by Glasgow City Council and would like to highlight the fact that the FoI Review Request process is also lodged with and overseen by the Director of Governance and Solicitor to the Council, Carole Forrest.

Now this seems quite bizarre and incongruous to me - the FoI equivalent of Catch 22 whereby the Director of Governance and Solicitor to the Council is in charge of both the initial stage and the appeal stage of the Council's supposedly independent FoI process.  

Openness, transparency and 'world leader' are not exactly the words that spring to mind - to my mind anyway.

I believe that elected Councillors in Glasgow should be taking a much keener interest in these matters because, in my view, the ‘hands-off’ approach adopted previously by Councillors in relation to the WPBR, and equal pay more generally, has certainly helped get the Council into the terrible mess it finds itself in today.

In other words, the actions and behaviour of the Council's senior officials could do with more serious scrutiny not less.

I will be in touch again soon regarding the substance of my appeal to the Scottish Information Commissioner which I'm sure you will find is in the public interest.

Kind regards


Mark Irvine

Enclosure 1 - FoI Response letter sent on behalf of the Council's Director of Governance (21/12/18)

-----Original Message-----
From: FOI Reviews
To: markirvine@compuserve.com
Sent: Fri, Dec 21, 2018 3:26 pm
Subject: FOI Review - RQST6789912

Dear Mr Irvine 

On behalf of Carole Forrest, Director of Governance and Solicitor to the Council, please find attached Glasgow City Council's response to your request for review dated 11 September 2018.

Regards

FOI Review Team
Glasgow City Council

NEW REQUEST

The Council is treating paragraph 3 of your email dated 11 September 2018 as a new request for information under the Act. You requested that the following information be provided to you:

“I would be grateful if the Council could confirm the following points in its FOI Review Response:

a) How many pages of handwritten notes are there in total?
b) In whose name or names are these vital documents recorded?
c) Is there is more than one single volume of notes and if so, how many?
d) Do the notes cover specific periods and if so, please confirm the dates involved?”

Please be advised that your request is being refused in terms of section 14(1) of the Act on the basis that it is vexatious. In particular, the Council is of the view that your request does not have a serious purpose or value and is designed to cause disruption or annoyance to the Council.

Enclosure 2 - FoI Review Request letter to the Council's Director of Governance (07/01/19)

07 January 2019

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


Dear Ms Forrest

FoI Review Request

I refer to the letter below from Glasgow City Council dated 21 December 2018 (Enclosure 1) and would like to submit a formal FOI Review Request for the following reasons.

1) I completely reject the Council's assertion that my FOI Request is vexatious and that it is designed to cause annoyance or disruption, not least because your claim is not backed up with any logical arguments or supporting evidence. 

2) The handwritten notes in question relate to the procurement, implementation, management and operation of the Council's controversial Workforce Pay and Benefits Review (WPBR) from 2005 onwards.

3) As you know, the WPBR was later condemned as 'unfit for purpose' by the Court of Session, Scotland's highest civil court, in August 2017 and since that landmark judgment the Council has understandably decided to replace the WPBR with the Scottish Joint Council job evaluation (JE) scheme. 

4) Looking back, the Scottish Joint Council JE scheme should have been used in the first place, i.e. in 2007, not least because the Council subsequently wasted huge sums of public money defending this 'indefensible' scheme and its discriminatory practices, while running up a giant equal pay bill which will cost the taxpayer hundreds of millions of pounds to settle.

5) So, by any stretch of the imagination, this is a matter of enormous public interest and importance, from which it follows that it is perfectly reasonable for me to ask about the 'provenance' of these handwritten notes and what information they contain. Quite why the notes are 'handwritten' in the first place is a mystery, but that is a matter for another day.


6) I have to say I am surprised at the Council's reluctance to provide this information as I believe GCC has a duty to provide practical 'help and assistance' under the terms of the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002. In this particular case, the Council's response is deliberately obstructive and unhelpful, in my view. 

7) I would also point out that the response makes a mockery of the Council's publicly stated aim of Glasgow becoming a 'world leader' for openness and transparency because important records regarding major policy decisions such as the WPBR should be freely available to the public.

8) I suspect the Council's initial response has more to do with protecting the interests of senior officials, past and present, than it has to do with the interests of good local government - and the less than judicious use of public money in Scotland's largest council.  

9) I think, therefore, that it is entirely reasonable to expect the Council to answer the points I have raised instead of hiding behind a bogus claim that my request is 'vexatious'. For this reason I am sharing my FOI Review Request with the Party Group leaders and elected members of Glasgow  City Council.    

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

Enclosure 3 - FoI Review request letter from the Council's Director of Governance (10/01/19)

-----Original Message-----
From: FOI Reviews
To: markirvine@compuserve.com
Sent: Thu, Jan 10, 2019 12:29 pm
Subject: Freedom of Information

Dear Mr Irvine, 
I refer to your request for a formal review of the decision made in connection with your Freedom of Information Request and attach herewith acknowledgement letter for your information.
Regards,
FOI Review Team
Glasgow City Council 

Director of Governance and  Glasgow City Council
Solicitor to the Council City Chambers
Carole Forrest LLB DipLP George Square
Glasgow G2 1DU
Phone: 0141 287 4522
Fax No: 0141 287 3627


Our Ref: CF/RQST6836795 Your Ref: 
Date: 10 January 2018

By e-mail: markirvine@compuserve.com

FREEDOM OF INFORMATION (SCOTLAND) ACT 2002
REQUEST FOR INFORMATION - REVIEW

Thank you for contacting Glasgow City Council.  I acknowledge receipt of your recent correspondence dated 7 January 2018 requesting that the Council reviews its handling of your request for information in terms of the above Act.

I confirm that I am reviewing your request and shall notify you of the result within 20 working days of receipt of your request.

Yours faithfully


Carole Forrest
Director OF Governance and Solicitor to the Council