Information about my work as a Labour Councillor for East Finchley in the London Borough of Barnet

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

One Barnet and the transparency problem

At the last Audit Committee meeting, I spoke about how the Council did not consider transparency to be important. In thier own internal audit, they said they planned to comply with the minimum standards, and shift to a more demand side approach. Basically they will publish information you ask for, not by choice. Given they put up a fight against any request for information, what does it say about moving to a system where all information release will be on request? This flies against even what Eric Pickles says. Barnet Council is a banana republic as far as the level of democracy goes, but it's even more shadowy when it comes to publishing information.

Where are the director's group minutes I have requested, and that they said would be published quarterly? Wy did I have to battle for a month to get the list of assets held for sale? A list which should be publicly available? Where is the special Parking revenue account we asked for at Budget and Performance? Why has the blogger Mr Mustard had to get an information commissioner ruling to get the full unredacted One Barnet risk register? why are so many of Mr Mustard's freedom of Information requests deemed "vexatious"? He is a resident and has a right to see information about the running of the Council which is supposed to work for him.

Most opaque of all, when three bloggers visited the Council and exerised their statutory rights to examine the accounts, was the information redacted?

If Councillors currently are denied access to information we have a right to see, and residents can't see anything for all the redactions, then what is it going to be like when all the performance criteria for the Council will be commercially confidential, because it relates to the performanc of a company? If it's bad enough now, imagine what it will be like under One Barnet?

As it is, we get information at committee meetings, and have to ask our own questions and follow the discussion while reading new information and asking questions on these as well. It isn't good practice in scrutiny. As it is they provide us with our committee papers far too late.

I see my colleague Cllr Alison Moore has similar concerns. It's not entirely surprising that a Council which spends more money closing a library than keeping it open can't tell the difference between an 8 page summary of the One Barnet risk register than the full 59 page version.