Thursday, 31 March 2016

How Times Change

As I wrote my post the other day about Ben Innes, the chap with the rictus grin, posing for a 'selfie' with a suspected suicide bomber I thought of events at Glasgow Airport back in 2007 when those caught up in terrorist incident got 'stuck in' instead of cuddling up to the bad guys. 

John Smeaton, for example, the airport baggage handler, who put the boot in, quite literally, rather than reaching for his smart phone.

Here's what John had to say to the news media shortly after the terrifying incident:

“I had just come out for my fag. I was actually smoking round the side of the building.

“That’s when I heard the commotion, all the noise, and then I just walked out to see what was happening.

“I just remember people were all moving away, then they all started running back towards the terminal.

“I walked along and I turned left and saw the Jeep crashed into the building.”

Smeaton watched as Abdulla, 29, an Iraqi junior doctor, got out of the vehicle and started attacking the police.

“Next thing I know, I saw a guy coming out of the passenger side. All I remember is he was throwing his jacket off,” he said.

“Then he went to the rear of the vehicle. As he got to the rear, police officers came across and the guy just started attacking a police officer.

“He was flinging punches, flinging hundreds of punches like a prize fighter.

“Before I knew it, I was just charging in – it was just pure adrenaline, I was just thinking: ‘Get the bastard ‘.

“I didn’t know at that time it was a terrorist attack. It was just the guy attacking the police officer.”

Smeaton recalled how he then ran in and kicked Abdulla, dodging a punch by a matter of inches.

“I just snapped, I just totally and utterly snapped.

“He flung a punch at me and I stuck my leg out to kick him.”

Describing Abdulla at that moment, Smeaton remembered: “He was mental, the guy was just going mental.

“It’s hard to describe the man, he was just going nuts, flinging punches.

“All I remember him saying was ‘Allah’, he kept mentioning ‘Allah’.”

So, I take my hat off to John wherever he is these days - I'd rather have him at my back than a health and safety auditor with a smart phone, any day of the week.

Rictus Grin (30/03/16)

Embarrassingly, the chap in this photograph with the rictus grin has a connection with Scotland: Ben Innes is a health and safety auditor, apparently, and lives in Aberdeen although he hails originally from Leeds.
In any event, Ben was caught up in the hijacking of an Egyptian plane which ended up in Cyprus, courtesy of some lovelorn idiot wearing a fake suicide vest while pretending to be a terrorist.
Speaking to The Sun newspaper (who else?) Ben explained his pride in the unexpected 'holiday' snap.
“I’m not sure why I did it, I just threw caution to the wind while trying to stay cheerful in the face of adversity. I figured if his bomb was real I’d nothing to lose anyway, so took a chance to get a closer look at it.
“I got one of the cabin crew to translate for me and asked him if I could do a selfie with him. He just shrugged OK, so I stood by him and smiled for the camera while a stewardess did the snap. It has to be the best selfie ever."
But what I don't get is how can it be a 'selfie' if he didn't take the photo himself?

Glasgow City Council Update

I wrote about the 'sour grapes' coming from the local trade unions and Glasgow City Council following the recent decision of the Employment Appeal Tribunal which concluded that the Council's pay arrangements treated traditional male workers more favourably than women workers, in comparable jobs.

Here's the local Unison branch secretary in Glasgow, Sam McCartney, doing his level best to pour cold water on things instead of encouraging the City Council to get round the negotiating table:

"The bottom line is that at this point in time its premature to say who has won or lost. How this will pan out will take much much more legal wrangling to get a resolution. And the figures bandied around are way in excess of what anyone can expect."

Now if you ask me, these are remarkably similar sentiments to those expressed by the local Unison branch secretary in South Lanarkshire, Stephen Smellie, in an interview with the Hamilton Advertiser newspaper back in 2012, after the local Labour-run council had lost a major Employment Tribunal hearing.

For some reason Stephen is referred to as Mr Smillie, but I've checked the records and his name is definitely Smellie (pronounced Smiley as opposed to Smelly), but in any event here's what Stephen told the Hamilton Advertiser (see the full article in the post below):

"He is also keen to point out that no-one with an equal pay dispute is guaranteed money at this stage. 

"He said: “It’s been described as a victory. No-one has got their money yet, no-one is going to get any money at this stage, and no-one has won an equal pay case.

“One of the concerns I have is publishing how much money will be paid out and saying people are going to get it before Christmas.

“Not every one of these cases is going to win and I don’t want people to buy a new three-piece suite thinking they are going to be getting a big pay-out. Nobody actually knows whether a case will win or not.”

Now as regular readers know, the South Lanarkshire Unison branch actively discouraged its members from pursuing equal pay claims against the local Labour-run council which was a quite remarkable way for a trade union to behave if you ask me.

So I think the motto of the story is to union members should always take steps to ensure that local trade unions reps actually know what they're talking about.

Glasgow Update (23/03/16)

'Sour Grapes' seems to be the order of the day at Glasgow City Council where the local trade unions and council bosses seem to have joined forces (not for the first time) to dampen people's expectations over equal pay.

See the report below in today's Herald newspaper.

Now as regular readers know the local trade unions in Glasgow have form in this area having previously encouraged their members to accept miserably poor offers of settlement from the Council back in 2005.

In other areas, in South Lanarkshire for example, local union leaders also went 'native' and actively discouraged their own members from pursuing equal pay claims against the local Labour-run council, so union members voted with their feet and joined up with Action 4 Equality Scotland.

I have to say I find it quite amazing that a local union branch secretary can try to pour cold water on such a big victory at the Employment Appeal Tribunal instead of calling on the Council to get round the table to settle these claims.  

The SNP opposition leader in Glasgow, Cllr Susan Aitken, told The Herald yesterday that the City Council should "come clean" about its responsibilities and settle the claims, which to be honest is the kind of comment I would expect to hear from a trade union leader standing up for low paid council workers.

So why in heaven's name does a local union branch secretary in Glasgow take such a different position? 

Especially as the unions at national level have been working constructively with Action 4 Equality Scotland to achieve the result from the Employment Appeal Tribunal which represents a really big win in anyone's language. 

Multi-million pound equal pay windfall victory claims are premature, warn unions and council

Female workers celebrate a previous equal pay victory. But unions and council warns against premature jubilation in latest Glasgow case

By Gerry Braiden - The Herald

THOUSANDS of female council employees expecting a major windfall as part of an equal pay dispute will have to wait months for any confirmation if victory amid warnings of premature celebrations.

Senior union figures and local authority sources have said the pay dispute involving around 6500 Glasgow City Council staff has several further months of legal wrangling before it comes to any conclusion.

It comes after leading lawyer Stefan Cross declared victory over the authority, predicting a total payout of £100million.

Glasgow Update (21/03/16)

Great news for the 5,500 Action 4 Equality Scotland (A4ES) clients still fighting for equal pay with Glasgow City Council.

The long running case which went to the Employment Appeal Tribunal has finally released its decision (from a hearing which concluded in May 2015) and the result is a huge victory for the claimants.

In essence the tribunal agreed that Glasgow City Council failed to create a level playing field between its traditional male and female jobs before introducing new pay arrangements in 2007.

As regular readers know, traditional male jobs received significant bonus payments on top their basic pay which were highly discriminatory because these lucrative bonus schemes were not available to female dominated jobs.

So 11 years or 12 years ago, a Glasgow Home Care worker was earning around only £6.00 an hour, whereas a male refuse worker or gardener (on the same or even a lower grade) was being paid significantly more, around £9.00 a hour because of these 'male only' bonus schemes.

Now these big bonuses were negotiated between council management and the trade unions (GMB, Unison and Unite), but the size of the pay gap between traditional male and female jobs was kept hidden from the wider workforce - until Action 4 Equality Scotland came along in 2005 and let the cat out of the bag..

The claimants case is that Glasgow City Council had a clear duty to tackle this pay discrimination and create a level playing field between male and female jobs before introducing new pay arrangements in 2007 - and this argument has been upheld by the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT).

In plain language the pay of women's jobs should have increased to the same level as the higher (bonus related) pay of men's jobs, otherwise the Council continued to treat its male workers much more favourably than their female colleagues. 

Which is exactly what happened in Glasgow because the City Council protected the higher (bonus related) earnings of its traditional male jobs going forward (from 2007) and this 'more favourable treatment' forms the basis of another equal pay claim for the 5,500 A4ES clients. 

The $64,000 dollar question is whether Glasgow City Council will accept the game is now up and negotiate a settlement to all of the outstanding claims.

Because if not, then the fight for equal pay in Glasgow is bound to be be a big issue in the Scottish Parliament elections in May 2016 and will also run all the way to the next round of Scottish council elections due in May 2017.

So I will be making contact with the leadership of Glasgow City Council in the days ahead to discover whether it is to be a case of 'jaw jaw' or 'war war'.

Foot And Mouth (01/0712)

A number of readers from South Lanarkshire have been in touch to voice their outrage at the  comments made to the Hamilton Advertiser - by the local unison branch secretary, Stephen Smellie.

See yesterday's post dated 30 June 2012 - 'Weasel Words' - in which the following quote is attributed to the local union rep:

“Not every one of these cases is going to win and I don’t want people to buy a new three-piece suite thinking they are going to be getting a big pay-out. Nobody actually knows whether a case will win or not.”

Now I can see what the readers are driving at - because Stephen has form in this area and has commented previously on people's shopping habits and how women should spend their money - on shoes and sofas it would seem.

Witness the following quote from the Hamilton Advertiser in May 2012 in which Unison is giving further helpful advice - in relation to the so-called 'living wage':

"Stephen Smellie, secretary of Unison’s South Lanarkshire Branch said the MSP was failing to note the hugely positive impact which the Living Wage had on the families who will gain from its introduction.

He explained: “It is primarily low-paid women who have benefited from the Living Wage. They will now be better able to buy a spare pair of shoes or a winter coat for their kids.

Now the sums of money involved in the council's 'living wage' policy are peanuts - compared to what's at stake over equal pay.

So I can identify with the readers who have contacted me to say that they find these Unison comments offensive and patronising - in the extreme.

Weasel Words (30 June 2012)

The trade unions in South Lanarkshire - especially Unison - continue to get a pasting in the local press for their craven behaviour over equal pay.

Which is richly deserved - in my opinion.

Here's an article from this week's Hamilton Advertiser which a kind reader brought to  my attention - with the wry observation that the union seems to be on the side of the council employer - not the council workers.

But there's little wonder that Unison is on the defensive of course - because the union gave evidence in support of South Lanarkshire Council in the recent employment tribunal case - which concluded that the council's job evaluation scheme (JES) does not comply with equal pay legislation - and is therefore 'not fit to be relied upon'.

Now you would think this would give the unions some pause for thought - time for  reflection even - because they've been cosying up to South Lanarkshire Council for years - instead of doing the right thing by their members. 

Which is why - as in Glasgow City Council - the trade unions in South Lanarkshire have lost all credibility over equal pay - they've acted as little more than cheerleaders for the council and refused to look critically at the reasons for the big pay gap between male and female jobs.

The lack of transparency in South Lanarkshire's JES and its pay systems has been evident for years - but it's Action 4 Equality Scotland which has been challenging the council and asking all the awkward questions - not the trade unions.

Unison and Equal Pay Dispute

by Julie Gilbert (Hamilton Advertiser)

The union representing women fighting for equal pay at South Lanarkshire Council have defended their handling of the issue.

Unison came under criticism last week after the Glasgow Employment Tribunal ruled the council’s job evaluation scheme did not comply with the Equal Pay Act.

Thousands of female council workers who claim they are being paid less than men for doing equal amounts of work will now be able to have their cases assessed by the tribunal and could potentially recieve six years of back pay.

Solicitor Carol Fox, who is representing 2400 of the women with equal pay disputes at the tribunal, said that Unison owed their members an apology for initially telling women they had no case against the council.

Fox Cross Solicitors, together with Action4Equality, have been fighting the council since 2005 but Unison did not join the battle until just over a year ago.

However, Unison’s Lanarkshire Branch Secretary Stephen Smillie said that when the council’s job evaluation scheme was first set up the union believed it did comply with the Equal Pay Act.

They did not want to go to tribunal at that point. They said a fair and compliant job evaluation would be a defence against any equal pay claim.

However, as issues arose regarding the scheme’s transparency, the union made the decision to join the tribunal and they insist they have always had their members’ interests at heart.

Mr Smillie said: “The job evaluation scheme was first introduced in the late 1990s. There’s been a whole number of developments and different cases since then.

“We felt after these cases were held that clarity was needed on the point of transparency and that’s when we joined the tribunal case which was being led by Fox Cross.

"There was no evidence that the scheme was discriminatory – if it was we wouldn’t have been involved in it.

“It’s on the point of transparency that it fails.”

The transparency argument centres on the point that every worker has the right to look at the salary scale and understand how they are paid and why, and that every worker has the right to know how comparable workers are paid and why.

If those being represented by Unison win an equal pay claim, then they will only get pay backdated to when Unison joined the tribunal, whereas those being represented by other solicitors will get back pay to when they joined the tribunal, in some cases as long as six years ago.

However, Mr Smillie points out that unlike a no win, no fee lawyer, Unison will not be deducting a fee from any settlement employees win.

He is also keen to point out that no-one with an equal pay dispute is guaranteed money at this stage.

He said: “It’s been described as a victory. No-one has got their money yet, no-one is going to get any money at this stage, and no-one has won an equal pay case.

“One of the concerns I have is publishing how much money will be paid out and saying people are going to get it before Christmas.

“Not every one of these cases is going to win and I don’t want people to buy a new three-piece suite thinking they are going to be getting a big pay-out. Nobody actually knows whether a case will win or not.”

Boris Weighs The Options

Boris Johnson has been having a hard time in the press over recent days with much of the criticism focusing on his character and personal life.

But my complaint about Boris is that he's a complete 'chancer' whose views change like the weather to suit his purpose or which country he's in perhaps.

Compare this extract from an article in The Sunday Telegraph in which Boris 'celebrates' the liberation of Palmyra with Boris's comments from September 2013 compare President Assad to Adolf Hitler.   

Bravo for Assad – he is a vile tyrant but he has saved Palmyra from Isil (The Telegraph - 28 March 2016)

The Syrian regime, with military help from Russia, is succeeding where the West has failed

I suppose it is bizarre to feel such joy at the military success of one of the vilest regimes on earth. But I cannot conceal my elation as the news comes in from Palmyra and it is reported that the Syrian army is genuinely back in control of the entire Unesco site.

There may be booby traps in the ruins, but the terrorists are at last on the run. Hooray, I say. Bravo – and keep going. Yes, I know. Assad is a monster, a dictator. He barrel-bombs his own people. His jails are full of tortured opponents. He and his father ruled for generations by the application of terror and violence – and yet there are at least two reasons why any sane person should feel a sense of satisfaction at what Assad’s troops have accomplished

The Metro - 3 September 2013
The west should not make the same mistakes with Syria as it did with Nazi Germany, Boris Johnson has said, as he compared Bashar al-Assad to Adolf Hitler.

The mayor of London wants MPs to ‘think again’ on military intervention in Syria if Congress backs US president Barack Obama’s call for strikes after last month’s suspected chemical weapons attack.

Mr Johnson, echoing David Cameron’s comments last week, said a targeted bombing campaign would show that ‘in the end, when a tyrant decides to use unlawful weapons, gas, to murder innocent civilians, we will not stand idly by’.

Now on balance it's a good thing that the Islamic State are no longer in control of Palmyra, but this is not a cause for celebration because Syria's civil war is down to President Assad's tyrannical regime and his ruthless use of the army to suppress  demands for political change.

And for all the harm done to rare archeological artefacts in Palmyra, this is as nothing compared to the treatment of the Yazidis many of whom have been killed, with women and children sold into slavery.

Words of War (30/11/15)

Image result for words of war + images

A war of words is underway about whether the UK should participate in the bombing campaign against the mad dogs of the Islamic State in their safe havens in Syria.

In Raqqa, for example, where 'Jihadi John' was taken out in a targeted strike from an American drone missile.

Now people like Jeremy Corbyn say that it would have been 'far better' if Mohammed Emwazi (aka Jihadi John) had been captured and put on trial for his cowardly, murderous crimes, but this would have put the lives of UK or Nato troops at risk.

Not only that, of course, because people like Jeremy Corbyn and his friends in the Stop the War (STW) Coalition would then have complained that western troops were acting unlawfully by taking military action in another country (Syria) without the permission of the Syrian Government.

In my view the arguments about extending military action into Syria are finely balanced - there are no guarantees of success of success and there are obvious risks one way or the other.

But the UK is currently the target of terrorist plots and potential attacks by the Islamic State and other groups who are not waiting for and attack on Raqqa to 'justify' their actions - their murderous intent is aimed at western democratic values and our secular 'live and let live' way of life.

So extending military action into Syria does not make any difference because the Islamists will always find an 'excuse' for murdering innocent people in the name of their religion - or kidnapping young girls in Nigeria or forcing Syrian Yazidi women into slavery.

Talking or negotiating with a death cult like the Islamic State would make as much sense as inviting Charles Manson and the Manson Family round to dinner.

Like most people I can see both sides of the argument, but on balance I am in favour of preventing the Islamic State from turning places like Raqqa into a stronghold from which they can continue to plan and launch further terrorist attacks.

The terrorists don't recognise the international border between Iraq and Syria - and nor should we because if we were to do so, we would effectively be abandoning the Syrian Kurds to their fate in towns like Kobane which has only recently been freed from the scourge of IS. 

Religion of Peace? (12/06/15)

Image result for religion of peace + images

The Mail is not one of my favourite 'reads', but you've got to applaud the newspaper for continuing to highlight the fate of the Yazidi people at the hands of the Islamic State (IS) while other titles look the other way.

Now no one thinks that Muslims generally are responsible for the deeds of these religious fascists, yet they take their inspiration from the Koran and other 'holy' scriptures which, they say, gives them the authority to treat other human beings in this way.

So what I would like to hear from leading Islamic scholars is that the words of the Koran are not to be taken literally: that this horrific treatment of young girls, women and other prisoners (whether Muslim or non-Mulim) is not justified by scripture, no matter how ancient or 'holy' the book. 

'The virgins were taken to a room with 40 men. They lined us up and pointed who they wanted': Yazidi girl, 17, made pregnant by ISIS fighter reveals her nine-month ordeal as a jihadi sex slave
  • Teenager revealed how she was sold to Chechen fighter with her sister, 10 
  • Made to recite Koran verses while fighter and his 'bodyguards' raped them
  • When teen tried to fight back, she was scaled with boiling water by rapists 
  • Girl finally escaped when her captor was killed by the Kurdish in April

A Yazidi teenager has told how she and her little sister were raped daily by depraved jihadists after they were sold into slavery at an auction of virgins - as she revealed she is now pregnant with the vile extremist's baby.

The girl, who is just 17, revealed how every day of her nine-month ordeal was 'like choosing between death and death' as she was faced with beatings and sexual assaults by the ISIS militant and his team of 'bodyguards'.

The teenager told how she was gang-raped, whipped and even scalded on the thigh with boiling hot water if she didn't keep with her ISIS rapist's depraved sexual demands.

Scroll down for video

Sex slaves: Yazidi women and girls have been separated from their families, forced to convert to Islam and repeatedly raped by ISIS fighters

Horrifying: The teenager told how she and and her 10-year-old sister were handcuffed and taken to a hotel where other scantily dressed women and girls were auctioned off to jihadis Picture: A sex slave victim of ISIS, many of whom say they try to kill themselves so that they won't be raped again

The girl recalled how she was forced to recite passages from the Koran while her 'owner', calling himself Al-Russiyah, and his 'bodyguards' molested her.

Now, three months pregnant with Al-Russiyah's baby, the girl says she gets flashbacks and nightmares about what he did to her.

'It was like choosing between death and death... It was terrible,' she said.

'He beat me and would be with at least one other man every time he had sex with me.'

The teenager was kidnapped last August, after ISIS fighters overran the town of Shingal, also known as Sinjar, in an onslaught which sent thousands of Yazidis who had been living on the Nineveh Plain running for the mountains to escape the extremists.

The teenager was handcuffed and held in a hotel by gun-toting ISIS fighters, with a number of other scantily dressed women and young girls in Mosul, Iraq.

She was then moved to Islamic State's adopted capital of Raqqa, Syria, where she and dozens of other women and girls were underwent an intrusive examination to confirm that they were virgins.

Yazidi woman: 'ISIS fighters took whoever they wanted'

Vile: The girl described how the fighter used to smell her and the other sex slaves each morning, before deciding which one he would take for himself

Horrifying: The girl revealed how she was sold at an auction of sex slaves to a jihadi fighter who raped her repeatedly over nine months. This picture from ISIS social media channels purports to show one such market

Kidnapped: The girl was captured when ISIS overran the Nineveh Plane last August, which sent thousands of Yazidis fleeing for the relative safety of Mount Sinjar (pictured)

'The virgins were taken to a room with 40 men,' she recalled.

'They lined us up and pointed who they wanted... I thought I might be lucky: I was not as beautiful as the others.'

The girl was bought by Al-Russiyah, originally from Chechnya, who purchased her, her 10-year-old sister and two other girls in 10 minutes.

But it was not only the prospect of what the horrors they would face once they were taken away from the auction house which left the girls distraught.

'The day me and my sister were sold was the last day I saw my mother. I will never forget when she started crying and pulling her hair when they took us,' she said.
They forced me to say things from the Koran during the time they did their actions, and if I didn't they whipped me.
Girl, 17, who was kept as a sex slave

Once at their new 'home', an abhorrent daily routine from which they could not escape began.

Each morning, Al-Russiyah would strip the girls naked, then smell them and decide who he wanted to have sex with that day, she said.

After the he had made his choice, his bodyguards would select one of the remaining girls for themselves.

But the bodyguards were so rough with her that the teenager felt relief at being picked by her captor, who would 'beat her less than the other men'.

It was hopeless to resist: on the one occasion she did, one of Al-Russiyah's men poured boiling water on her leg.

'They forced me to say things from the Koran during the time they did their actions, and if I didn't they whipped me,' she said.

'I didn't feel anything. I just felt numb. I wanted it to be over. I wanted to kill myself.

'We were forced to cook, clean and do anything that they told us. We had to obey their orders. Sometimes we had to dance and sing for them.'

Sex slave: The girl is not the only one to speak about her horrific ordeal. Hamshe, a Yazidi girl from Iraq, spoke to documentary maker about being held as a sex slave by Isis militants for 28 days with her baby

Freedom: The girls finally escaped in April, when their captors were killed. They then joined thousands of refugees, like these ones, in hidng from ISIS, who believe Yazidis are infidels who are barely human

But then finally, after nine months of torture which no one should have to endure, a chance to escape arose.

In April, Al-Russiyah was killed, together with his bodyguards, by Peshmerga forces near Sinjar, northern Iraq - and the girls were finally able to flee.

She said: '[Al-Russiyah] and his bodyguards were wounded when they fought against Kurdish soldiers. He died immediately and the guards also.

'That was when we fled.'

Some of the girls ran back to ISIS because they were so afraid. One girl who tried to escape had her legs cut off by the militants, it is claimed.

The girl says life is now difficult for her because the Yazidi community is very patriarchal - and those who have fled ISIS are considered 'tainted' - even though their highest cleric has urged families to accept them.

Her uncle has threatened to kill her if she had been sexually abused by Islamic State fighters, and she is now preparing to terminate her pregnancy.

Delal Sindy, a 23-year-old aid worker from Sweden, has helped tell the 17-year-old Yazidi girl's story.

Ms Sindy, who has been in Kurdistan since October last year, is determined to stay and help in the face of ISIS getting stronger in the region.

'They are growing stronger in certain areas but here they are being pushed further away by the Kurdish military. And they really need help, this is why I am staying,' she said. 

Wednesday, 30 March 2016

North Lanarkshire Update

Here's another extract from the Scottish Information Commissioner's decision in relation to North Lanarkshire Council which accused me of submitting 'vexatious' FoI requests.

Now thankfully SIC threw out the Council's case which shows the importance of having an independent referee in these situations, but I laughed my head off while reading the section of the judgement where North Lanarkshire complains that I have been harassing its chief officials.

I remember many years ago watching a TV programme 'Troubleshooter' featuring a flamboyant captain of industry, Sir John Harvey-Jones, who visited struggling businesses and offered his insight and help in turning things around.

At one company Sir John visited, its headquarters were deserted like the Marie Celeste at 5 minutes past five and when he inquired why? Sir John was told, by the owner, that there were all kinds of problems with staff stress.

To which Sir John responded, barely able to contain his high-pitched laugh, that given the state of the business some of its staff could do with a 'good deal more stress'. 

And that's exactly the way I feel about North Lanarkshire Council because if I've been harassing them over the years with my FoI requests and equal pay campaigning, then they could have done with even more scrutiny into their behaviour.

Because that way they might have avoided making such a dog's dinner of equal pay over the past 10 or 12 years. 

The Council’s submissions
  1. In its initial response to Mr Irvine, the Council informed him that it considered his information requests to be vexatious:

    • It believed the main purpose of the requests was to pursue an argument with the Council, rather than to obtain recorded information. In this regard, the Council referred to the substantial amount of information that it had already provided to Mr Irvine in response to previous requests on matters of equal pay and the remuneration of senior Council officials.

    • Considering the volume and frequency of Mr Irvine’s requests, the Council concluded that responding to them was imposing a significant burden on its resources.

    • Referring again to the volume and frequency of the requests, the Council concluded that they were having a harassing effect on the staff required to respond to them. This was compounded by his blog posts relating to these responses, which it considered went beyond reasonable criticism. The Council concluded that it was appropriate to consider such public commentary as distressing to any reasonable person tasked with responding to his requests, particularly bearing in mind the more formal means of recourse available to him.

  2. In its submissions to the Commissioner, the Council stated that Mr Irvine was an independent consultant representing clients in relation to equal pay claims, who also maintained a blog to campaign and comment on equal pay issues. It explained it had received many FOI requests from Mr Irvine over a number of years, all concerned with the issue of equal pay and related matters, including the Council’s job evaluation process and the remuneration of senior Council employees.
Significant burden
  1. The Council acknowledged that it was not unusual for individuals, such as journalists, to regularly submit information requests covering a variety of issues and involving various Council departments. Similarly, in his capacity as a campaigner, Mr Irvine would be expected to submit a higher volume of requests than others. However, in Mr Irvine’s case, the Council stated, the requests were all concerned with the same matters of equal pay and the remuneration of senior Council officers, all of which required to be directed to the same Council department. 

    Harassing the Public Authority

    1. To evidence its position in this regard, the Council provided examples of blog posts from
      Irvine’s website, which it described as disrespectful of Council officers and disparaging of their responses.

    2. The Council provided the Commissioner with copies of exchanges with Mr Irvine in connection with an earlier request he made in June 2015, submitting that these were demonstrative of Mr Irvine’s harassing approach when engaging with FOI staff. The Council explained that following its initial response to that request, Mr Irvine had, through his blog, publicly accused the Council of refusing to release information and of having “something to hide”. In its review response, the Council challenged these comments, informing Mr Irvine that its responses had answered his questions and that information, which Mr Irvine alleged he had obtained from another source, was publicly available on its website.
    3. The Council submitted that Mr Irvine’s response to the review outcome was to publish further blog posts alleging he had been “threatened”, and that the Council was trying to curb criticism of its performance pay scheme (which it described as a disingenuous account of the correspondence in question). The Council contended that Mr Irvine’s requests nowappeared more concerned with point scoring and arguing with Council officials to generate content for his blog, rather than obtaining recorded information.
    1. The Council submitted that it was difficult for Council officers to answer Mr Irvine’s requests in an atmosphere of mutual respect. It explained that, rather than exercising his right of appeal to the Commissioner (in respect of the June 2015 request), Mr Irvine had chosen to make disparaging and insinuating comments in a public forum regarding the Council’s handling of his requests. The Council argued that this demonstrated that Mr Irvine had no regard for the discomfort and harassing effect such comments could have on the staff involved in responding to his requests, leading the Council to conclude that his latest three requests had not been made in good faith. 

    Me, Vexatious? (25/03/16)

    The Scottish Information Commissioner (SIC) has just upheld my latest freedom of information (FoI) appeal against North Lanarkshire Council (NLC).

    Now I'll share the details of the SIC decision soon, but the whole business goes back to the summer of 2015 after the NLC rejected my request for information relating to 'exit packages' and the remuneration of the Council's chief executive, on the grounds that my request was vexatious.

    For the moment here is a brief summary of SIC's findings:

    The Commissioner finds that North Lanarkshire Council (the Council) failed to comply with Part 1 of the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 (FOISA) in responding to the information requests made by Mr Irvine. In particular, she finds that the Council was not entitled to refuse to comply with Mr Irvine’s requests on the basis that they were vexatious and that, in doing so, it failed to comply with section 1(1) of FOISA. 

    The Commissioner therefore requires the Council to respond to Mr Irvine’s requirement for review, in terms of section 21(4)(b) of FOISA, by 9 May 2016.

    If I remember correctly, this is the third of fourth occasion that NLC have lost appeals that I have taken to the independent Scottish Information Commissioner and you would think that instead of wasting all this time and public money, the Council would learn its lesson - and stop behaving so secretively and defensively.

    After all if NLC had behaved openly and transparently, as they are supposed to under the FoI legislation, then just maybe the Council would not have avoided getting into such an awful mess with its pay arrangements, as happened back in 2006/07.