Friday, 30 November 2018

Monty Python Meets Glasgow City Council

The Scottish Information Commissioner has released the following decision in respect of my WPBR appeal which amounts to a well deserved 'boot up the arse' for Glasgow City Council.

Now, as regular readers know, Glasgow has an ambition to become a 'world leader' in terms of openness and transparency, but for some reason senior officials seem to ignore Council policy when it comes to explaining the mysterious arrangements surrounding the procurement, implementation, management and defence of its 'unfit for purpose' WPBR pay scheme.

So the Scottish Information Commissioner has told the Council to get its act together, answer my FoI request and apologise to me for 'its failure to respond and for the technical issues surrounding receipt of my emails'.

The thing that makes me laugh is that elected councillors, or some of them at least, insist that senior officials always act under political direction.

In which case who is allowing senior officials to make a mockery of Council policy when it comes to 'openness and transparency' over the WPBR and who is behind the ridiculous argument that my email service provider (AOL) is sending out my own emails already marked as 'Spam'?

Because this doesn't happen with any other emails I send to Glasgow City Council, or anywhere elsewhere for that matter, so I think it's fair to ask just what the hell is going on? 

Meanwhile to lighten the mood here's a sketch of what Scotland's largest council would look like, if the Monty Python team ran things for a few days.

Couldn't be any worse than the present mob, if you ask me.



Glasgow City Council (the Council) was asked for the handwritten notes regarding the planning/implementation of the Workforce Pay and Benefit Review (WPBR) from October 2005 to November 2006. This decision finds that the Council failed to respond to the requirement for review within the timescale allowed by the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 (FOISA).

The Commissioner has ordered the Council to comply with the requirement for review.

Commissioner’s analysis and findings

1. The Council confirmed that Mr Irvine’s requirement for review had been received. It explained that it had not been responded to because it had been quarantined as “spam” and that such an email is only held for 30 days and then deleted.

2. The Council acknowledged that this had happened before to one of Mr Irvine’s requests, as noted in Decision 012/2018. At that time, the Council’s IT Department took steps to resolve the technical issues relating to the FOI Review Team’s mailbox, to prevent emails being lost in this way.

3. The Council explained that the issue had recurred because of an upgrade applied to the filtering software (during the summer), which affected the measures put in place for the earlier version and meant that the Review Team was no longer getting the notifications it required. The Council confirmed that it had since applied a more specific fix concerning the email address in question, which would no longer be subject to “spam” filtering.

4. The Council confirmed, now that it was aware of Mr Irvine’s requirement for review, that it was being actioned and a response would be sent to him as soon as possible. This had not, however, been done by the date of this decision.

5. Section 21(1) of FOISA gives Scottish public authorities a maximum of 20 working days following the date of receipt of the requirement to comply with a requirement for review. This is subject to qualifications which are not relevant in this case.

6. It is a matter of fact that the Council did not provide a response to Mr Irvine’s requirement for review within 20 working days, so the Commissioner finds that it failed to comply with section 21(1) of FOISA.

7. The remainder of section 21 sets out the requirements to be followed by a Scottish public authority in carrying out a review. As no review has been carried out in this case, the Commissioner finds that the Council failed to discharge these requirements: he now requires a review to be carried out in accordance with section 21.

8. The Commissioner recommends that the Council considers whether it would be appropriate to apologise to Mr Irvine for its failure to respond and the technical issues surrounding receipt of his emails.

Glasgow - Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam (27/11/18)

I thought my days of arguing with Glasgow City Council about 'Spam' were well and truly over, but I was wrong.

I am now embroiled in a new dispute relating to one of my outstanding FoI Review Requests regarding GCC's 'unfit for purpose' WPBR pay scheme which the Council failed to respond to within the time limits laid by by the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002.

More to follow, but in the meantime here's a reminder from the blog site archive of my previous encounter with Glasgow City Council and - Spam, Spam, Spam Spam.


Glasgow - Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam (15/12/18)

My latest FOI row with senior officials in Glasgow revolves around the City Council's internet watchdog turning my emails into 'spam'.

Now you've got to laugh at this nonsense because I've used the same email account for many years and never experienced any such problems.

But to celebrate the complete absurdity of it all here's the classic 'Spam sketch' from Monty Python featuring: Terry Jones, Eric Idle, Graham Chapman, John Cleese and Michael Palin. 


Glasgow - Excuses, Excuses (11/12/18)

Image result for dog ate my homework + images

Now I've heard some lame excuses in my time, as have most people, but the fabled 'the dog ate my homework' must be up there amongst the most ridiculous of them all including 'a big boy did it and ran away'.  

Yet this is, effectively, what Glasgow City Council are saying about an important FOI Review Request I submitted back on 9 November 2017 regarding missing Minutes of the Corporate Management Team.

Now I've used the same email account for years and never had any problems. 

In fact, I've been using my AOL (Compuserve) email server for all my FOI dealings with Glasgow City Council, but all of a sudden the IT department is claiming that my email letter of 9 November was treated as 'spam' by the council's cyber watchdog.

"Email received 08/12/17 from the Council’s IT Department

"I’ve had a look into this and I can confirm it was received however, the email was quarantined as spam; normally you would receive a notification for this but as it was sent to a generic mailbox, you wouldn’t have.

"The message is held for a maximum of 14 days and then deleted. I’ve added the mailbox to a group which allows you to receive notification when a quarantined spam email is received; the mailbox will receive a digest at 10am, 1pm and 4pm (if any further quarantined mail has been received).

"This issue occurred due to the way manage their outgoing mail."

Without a word of apology, the City Council goes on to say that my FOI Review Request will have to start all over again which is really quite bizarre, given that I have no responsibility for the council's internet security. 

So I will be writing to Glasgow's chief executive to insist that the missing Corporate Management Team minutes be released immediately, otherwise I will pursue an appeal and complaint to the Scottish Information Commissioner (SIC).

Glasgow City Council is, of course, Scotland's largest and best resourced local council with a budget of £1.5 billion pounds a year.


Glasgow, FoI and Equal Pay (24/11/17)

Here's an FoI Review request I've submitted to Glasgow City Council which I have raised because I am dissatisfied at the way in which senior officials 'answered' my original request for information.

As regular readers know, the City Council refused to answer a previous FoI request on the grounds of cost, but on this occasion they claim the information I requested (CMT minutes) were only produced from 2010 onwards.

Yet in the very first 'Minute' of 5 January 2010 Item 2 records that the 'note' of the previous meeting from 24 November 2009 was 'agreed as an accurate record'

Now I know I'm not stupid and I know that readers of the blog site don't think I'm stupid, but senior officials at Glasgow City Council must think I'm stupid - because why else would they come up with such a dumb response? 

I sent my Review Request letter by email to Carole Forrest on 9 November 2017, but haven't heard a 'cheep' out of the Council since then.

I find that quite astonishing, I have to say, because the council is clearly telling me 'porkies' about the minute-taking practices at GCC while also withholding other documents which should have been provided in response to my original FoI request.  

Is this good local government, is Glasgow really committed to culture of 'openness and transparency' over its pay arrangements?

Not so far, if you ask me.


Glasgow's WPBR - The Right to Know (26/11/18)

Here's a letter on Glasgow's 'unfit for purpose' WPBR pay scheme which I've sent to the four Party Group Leaders in the City Council: 
  • Susan Aitken - SNP 
  • Frank McAveety - Scottish Labour 
  • David Meikle - Scottish Conservatives 
  • Martha Wardrop/Allan Young - Green Party Co-Chairs.

The Council has a policy of becoming a 'world leader' for openness and transparency, yet GCC is refusing to release information which would explain the role of senior officials in procuring, implementing, managing and defending the WPBR over the past 13 years.

Now some politicians argue it's unfair to criticise senior officials because they always act under the direction of elected councillors, but if that is true who authorised senior officials to overturn the 'unfit for purpose' WPBR decision in a further appeal to the Court of Session in December 2017?   
The Council's senior officials are refusing to answer my FoI Request on the grounds that it would cost more than £600 to provide the information held in these mysterious 'handwritten notes' - more than 40 hours at £15 per hour - which seems completely ludicrous to me.

Especially as the Council's chief executive was willing to boost the pension pot of an outgoing senior official who requested voluntary early retirement with an additional, discretionary payment of £120,079. 

I would have expected the Council's political leaders to be as keen to get to the bottom of things as I am, not least because the Council workforce, Glasgow's council tax payers and the wider public clearly have a right to know how the 'unfit for purpose' WPBR turned into such a costly white elephant. 


Dear Councillor Aitken/McAveety/Meikle/Wardrop/Young

Glasgow and the WPBR - The Right to Know

I shared an outstanding FoI enquiry I have with Glasgow City Council on my blog the other day and enclose a copy of what I had to say to my thousands of readers and also to the Scottish Information Commissioner, Daren Fitzhenry.  

As you know, my view is that the Council workforce, the Glasgow council tax payer and, indeed, the wider public are entitled to know how Scotland's largest council got itself into such a terrible mess over the WPBR.

I am offering to suspend and subsequently withdraw my FoI Requests, if the Council were to do the right thing and agree to put the facts on the table.

I hope that the Party Group Leaders within the City Council agree on the need for openness and transparency on such an important issue, as I believe there is a real conflict of interest if council officials were allowed to block and/or frustrate, perfectly valid FoI enquiries into the role senior officials (past or present) played in the procurement, implementation, management and defence of the WPBR over the past 13 years.  

I would be delighted to discuss any of the points contained in my FoI Requests or indeed matters raised in my blog posts, only the Conservative Group Leader (Cllr Meikle) has responded directly to me so far. 

If you would like to do so, please give me a ring or contact me by email.  

Kind regards

Mark Irvine


Glasgow, FOI and the WPBR (21/11/18)

Here is one of the outstanding freedom of information (FOI) requests I an pursuing with Glasgow City Council (GCC).

The Council failed to respond to my request within the 20 day time limit laid down in the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002, and I have now referred the matter to the Scottish Information Commissioner who has the power to 'order' the City Council to comply.

My request focuses on just one document in one drawer of 3 GCC filing cabinets containing information about  the Council's 'unfit for purpose' WPBR pay scheme. As regular readers know this was introduced in 2006/07. 

The Council is refusing to release this information on the grounds that this would cost more than £600 to provide me with an answer - the correspondence below explains the background.

In 2016 the Council's chief executive used her discretion to boost the pension pot of another senior colleague by £120,079 which allowed the Director of Finance to retire early at age 57 and without taking any reduction in her pension benefits. 

To my mind the Council workforce, the Council tax payer and the wider public are entitled to know how Scotland's largest council got itself into such a mess over its Workforce Pay and Benefits Review (WPBR), particularly as this is going to cost hundreds of millions of pounds to put right.

So is it right for senior officials to keep this information secret when the Council's declared policy is to become a 'world leader' for its openness and transparency? 

I think not and as well as posting these details on my blog, I also plan to write directly to the Council's political leaders: Susan Aitken (SNP), Frank McAveety (Scottish Labour), David Meikle (Scottish Conservatives), Martha Wardrop and Allan Young (Green Party Co-Chairs). 


17 October 2018

Daren Fitzhenry 
Scottish Information Commissioner
Kinburn Castle
Doubledykes Road
St Andrews
KY16 9DS

Dear Mr Fitzhenry

Glasgow City Council (GCC) – FOISA Appeal

I would like to apply for an adjudication by the Scottish Information Commissioner over a FOISA Request submitted to Glasgow City Council on 16 April 2018.

The grounds of my application are that I submitted a formal FOISA Review Request to Glasgow City Council on 11 September 2018, but the Council has failed to respond within the 20 day time limit laid down by FOISA 2002.

I would, therefore, ask the Commissioner to order the release of the information requested in the FOI Request letter to Glasgow City Council dated 10 August 2018 

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:

Kind regards

Mark Irvine
Enclosures x 3

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

Dear Ms Forrest

FoI Review Request

I refer to the letter from Glasgow City Council dated 7 September 2018 (Enclosure 3) and would like to submit a formal FOI Review Request for the following reasons.

1) In its answer to a previous FOI Request the Council claimed that it would take 66.5 hours and cost approximately £677.34 to provide relevant information on the WPBR based on an internal sampling exercise. The Council's letter of 14 May 2018 (Enclosure 2) refers along with my response dated 5 June 2018 (Enclosure 1). In this case I am only asking for a tiny fraction of the total WPBR information held by the Council which is discrete, easy to locate and is not spread across multiple office locations. I might add that taking photos of the pages rather than photocopying them would speed the process up considerably.  

2) Therefore, I have to disagree with the Council's assertion that it would cost more than £600 to provide this information because the handwritten notes amount to one single document, from one single drawer of the nine individual filing cabinets, even allowing a generous amount of time for personal and/or sensitive details to be redacted. I hope that, on reflection, you will agree that the Council's claim in relation to Section 12 (1) of FOISA does not stand up to serious scrutiny. 

3) I also have to say that I find it very strange that, in this day and age, the Council appears to be relying on handwritten notes as a means of recording and securing vital information, but leaving that aside for the moment 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?

4) In my view there is a compelling public interest in accessing this information, including the legal advice given to the Council at the time, because my FOI Request goes to the heart of whether or not senior Council senior officials acted in 'good faith' over the introduction of the WPBR in 2007. Senior officials insist they acted in good faith, but how does this claim square with the introduction of a 37 hour WPBR 'rule' which was designed to disadvantage low paid, female dominated jobs? The WPBR handwritten notes almost certainly contain the answer to this question. 

5) As such, the handwritten notes are concerned with the conduct and good governance of Scotland's largest council and they are crucial to a proper understanding of the role played by senior council officials in 2005/07 during the introduction of the WPBR pay scheme - a scheme which has since been judged as 'unfit for purpose' by the highest civil court in Scotland, the Court of Session. For this reason alone, I would expect the Council's political leaders as well as its senior officials to support a policy of full and open disclosure.

7) So the issues surrounding the introduction of the WPBR in 2005/07 are of enormous public interest in 2018 given the long-running equal pay dispute in Glasgow City Council which has been raging for the past 12 years.

8) I find it hard to believe that the handwritten notes contain 'formal legal advice' because I have never heard of a Scottish local authority, or indeed any public body, receiving formal legal advice in the shape of handwritten notes. If the advice is from an official who just happens, or happened, to be a solicitor at the time (e.g Annemarie O'Donnell, Carol Forrest or Ian Drummond) I would argue this is not 'confidential' in a proper legal sense, but again I would ask the Council to clarify the nature of this 'legal advice' in its FOI Review Response.  

9) I would also emphasises that I am open to suggestion about restricting the period of my initial request, if that would help get to the bottom of what is contained in the handwritten notes. For example, if the Council agreed to provide information covering the period October 2005 to December 2005, this would help to determine the significance (or otherwise) of the information involved and whether there would be merit in requesting similar information covering the original (and longer) period from October 2005 to November 2006. 

10) Finally, can I say that council officials should be doing all in their power to live up to the Council Leader's publicly stated aim of Glasgow City Council becoming a 'world leader' for openness and transparency. To my mind, this means being honest enough to put all the relevant information into the public domain, even if this could prove inconvenient or embarrassing to senior council officials, past or present.

I look forward to your review response and would be grateful if you could reply to me by email at:

Kind regards

Mark Irvine


Freedom of Information Team 
Chief Executive’s Department

Our Ref: FOI 6694660
Your Ref:

7 September 2018

Dear Mr Irvine

Request under the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 (“the Act”)

Thank you for your email received on 10 August 2018 requesting that the following information be provided to you:

 “1) Please provide me with a copy of the handwritten notes regarding the planning/implementation of WPBR from October 2005 to November 2006.”

The Council is treating your request as a request under the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002.

We can advise you that the Council holds substantial handwritten notes which fall within the scope of your request. These are contained within bound volumes which would result in additional photocopying time as the notes cannot be fed through the feeder for the scanner and each page will need to be scanned individually. 

The vast majority of the pages will require some redaction for personal data, for example staff names, or legal advice given by the Council’s solicitors. This would be a very time consuming process. We are therefore of the view that it would exceed the cost threshold allowed by section 12(1) of the Act and the fees regulations made under the Act (this limit is currently £600). 

The Council has the option of complying with requests where the costs exceed £600.  However, on this occasion we have decided not to due to the resources (both financial and human) which voluntary compliance with this request would divert away from our core business.

We have provided below a further explanation of why the information that you have requested would require to be redacted: 

Personal data 
We believe that some of the information that you have requested is exempt from release under section 38(1)(b) of the 2002 Act. This means that disclosure of the information would involve releasing personal information about individuals. Release of this information would breach the Data Protection Principles contained within Article 5(1) of the General Data Protection Regulation. These require us to process personal information in a lawful, fair and transparent manner. 

The individuals concerned would not expect their personal details to be released in response to an FOI request. In our opinion, it would be unfair to the individuals concerned for such information to be released into the public domain. 

Legal Advice 
Some of the information is exempt from release under FOI because of the exemption contained in section 36(1) of the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002.  In other words, the material in question consists of information in respect of which the Council could maintain a claim to confidentiality of communications in legal proceedings.
While I have concluded that the exemption contained in section 36(1) applies in this case, the Council would still be obliged to release the information in response to your request unless the public interest in maintaining the exemption outweighs the public interest in disclosing the information.  In this case, we take the view that only a compelling public interest would be sufficient to justify departure from the principle that communications between a lawyer and their client should remain confidential.  No reasons have been advanced which would justify disclosure in this case, and accordingly we are unable to comply with your request.

If you are dissatisfied with the way Glasgow City Council has dealt with your request you are entitled to request the Council to review its response.  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:
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 by requesting that the Council review its response.  Details of how to request a review are set out in the above paragraph “Right of Review”.

Yours sincerely

Information and Data Protection Team
Chief Executive’s Department


-----Original Message-----
From: Mark Irvine
To: annemarie.odonnell  ; foi
Sent: Fri, Aug 10, 2018 4:04 pm
Subject: FOISA Request

10 August 2018

Annemarie O'Donnell
Chief Executive
Glasgow City Council

Dear Ms O'Donnell

FOISA Request

I refer to the attached letter from Glasgow City Council dated 08 August 2018 and would like to make the following request under the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002.

1) Please provide me with a copy of the handwritten notes regarding the planning/implementation of WPBR from October 2005 to November 2006?  
I look forward to your replay and would be grateful if you could respond to me by e-mail at:
Kind regards

Mark Irvine 

OurRef: FOI6666761 Your Ref:

8 August 2018

By email:

Dear Mr Irvine

Request under the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002

I refer to your request received on 11 July 2018 requesting that the following information be provided to you:

“I understand that Glasgow City Council is in possession of three filing cabinets containing information on its now discredited WPBR pay scheme which, as you know, has been judged as 'unfit for purpose' by the Court of Session, Scotland's highest civil court.
I am not clear on how these three filing cabinets are distinguished, one from the other, but I would like to make the following request under the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002.

1) Please provide me with a description of all of the WPBR information which is held in the 'top drawer' of filing cabinet Number 1?

2) if the top drawer of filing cabinet Number 1 has a 'name', reference number or some other identifying feature, please confirm this information as well?

Glasgow City Council (“the Council”) is treating your request as a request under the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 (“the Act”). Refer to our response below.

1) List of the contents of the first drawer 'top drawer' of filing cabinet Number 1.

Handwritten notes of planning/implementation of WPBR from October 2005 to November 2006
WPBR Guidance for managers
PRE WPBR Manual Worker Job Description
WPBR Trade Union Meeting Notes and Agenda 2005 to 2007
Allocation Queries from Services
Allocation Issued Responses
Allocation Procedures
Allocation guidance
Draft Allocations Compensation/Settlement Payments
Equality Impact Assessment Screening

Information and Data Protection Team

Chief Executive’s Department Glasgow City Council
City Chambers
George Square
Glasgow G2 1DU