Evasion and avoidance

15 Apr

A leading campaigner against the use of LOBO loans by local councils has accused Newham of operating a deliberate policy of delay and frustration in relation to Freedom of Information requests.

Joel Benjamin submitted a request to the council back in early February asking for details of financial disclosure forms submitted by Sir Robin Wales:

Dear Newham Borough Council,

  1. Please confirm if Robin Wales submitted a Members Financial Interest Disclosure form and/or party transaction disclosure for each of the years he was a councillor 1995 – 2016
  2. Please provide copies of Robin Wales’ Disclosure Forms for the 1995-2016 period and related ‘party transaction disclosures’ (which are related but not identical to the disclosure of interests forms members complete) which are required to be completed every year by the elected members.
  3. Please confirm the number of occasions upon which it was recorded Robin Wales withdrew from a Newham meeting, declaring a conflict of interest?
  4. Please confirm the dates upon which Newham Council has audited Members Disclosure forms and ‘party transaction disclosures’ between 1995-2016 to ensure member compliance.
  5. Please confirm on how many occasions, 1995-2016, Newham members have been cautioned, disciplined or otherwise sanctioned for failing to fill out a disclosure log, or for failing to disclose personal financial interests and potential conflicts?

Yours faithfully,

etc.

At the same time he submitted an identical request relating to councillor Lester Hudson, the cabinet lead for finance and chair of the audit board.

Despite reminders, these requests remain unanswered. This prompted a request for internal review (my emphasis added):

I am writing to request an internal review of Newham Borough Council’s handling of my FOI request ‘Disclosure of Newham Register of Elected Members Interest Forms – Robin Wales’.

I note that a formal response from Newham Council to this FOIA request is now approaching 20 days overdue, and is set against a backdrop of unexplained delays, refused requests and opaque decision making, which increasingly casts Newham Council as a FOIA non-compliant outlier for local authorities contacted for information regarding LOBO loans.

Mayor of Newham Robin Wales has staunchly defended the use of LOBO loans by Newham Council, which have been shown to cost Council taxpayers a £10m interest premium over the past decade, to say nothing of the LOBOs taken out by Housing Associations indirectly under Newham control.

It is therefore important to establish if conflict of interest forms have been formally lodged by Robin Wales and monitored by Newham Council and its auditors PwC for the period 2002 – 2011 when £653m of LOBO loan borrowing was negotiated.

A review was also requested, in the same terms, of the unanswered questions about Cllr Hudson. 

And again today, in relation to another FOI request, another request for internal review (my emphasis added):

I am writing to request an internal review of Newham Borough Council’s handling of my FOI request ‘Correspondence regarding Newham 2014/15 account objections re: LOBO Loans’.

I note that a response to this FOIA request is now 2 weeks overdue, and joins 3 additional requests left unanswered by Newham Council, whose FOIA policy is clearly to defer, delay, frustrate in the hope that requesters will not bother with an internal review and subsequent ICO referral.

Given failure to answer these FOIA requests is clearly part of a deliberate Newham policy and pattern, I will be referring the entire suite of unanswered FOIA requests to the ICO, and will let them determine the appropriate course of action to ensure that Newham Council administration acts in the public interest and the FOI officer observes the appropriate legal guidance timeframes.

I know from my own experience that Newham has no regard for the law when it comes to freedom of information, and no respect for the public who are simply exercising their right to know what is being done in their name. They will delay, refuse or simply ignore any request that might result in political embarrassment for Sir Robin or his circle of friends. It is long past time that the Information Commissioners Office intervened.

Advertisements

2 Responses to “Evasion and avoidance”

  1. terry ball April 15, 2016 at 12:13 #

    good luck .but do not hold your breath .they are well known for not answering anything, even the standards panel cant get a peep out of them when they do something wrong .its the newham way of defence build a wall of silence until you get bored and go away ,what a way to run a borough .what must labour party central think about it all .roll on next local election,and i am a labour supporter.

  2. Alan Combe April 20, 2016 at 14:13 #

    Oh dear, by asking for information that is up to 21 years old …. Going back as far as 1995, you are guaranteeing that you won’t get an answer this side of July …. if at all.

    The chances are that the disclosure forms sought are part of the Council’s accounts and the paperwork may only be held for perhaps six years. In any event going back over 21 years allows the Council to claim that it would be too expensive to find the paperwork.

    The same goes for asking the number of times since 1995 that Robin Wales withdrew from meetings. This information will be recorded in the minutes of the meetings. But unless you know which meetings, it would be a huge task to check them all so they won’t.

    They will tell you to check the published minutes yourself!

    So you will not get useful answers and in reality you let them off the hook!

    You need to be much much more specific in asking questions of this kind, if you really want the information.

    AC

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: