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News and Comment October 2012

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3 October (Part 4) - Freedom of Information Requests - update

A number of outstanding FOIs have been answered within the last few days although I would be the first to admit they may not be of universal interest. If you are seeking lighter fare, best come back another day, but two of the answered FOIs have been previously reported and a relatively satisfactory outcome should not be ignored.

Action to be taken should a councillor be guilty of a criminal offence - FOI request
There was a meeting of the Standards Committee on 28th June and at the end of it the Deputy Director of Legal Services answered one of Mr. Michael Barnbrook’s - he doesn’t give up does he? - questions by saying he had sought government advice on the subject. I don’t remember the exact words used but I did hear something said to that effect. As it has become a contentious issue I contacted two other witnesses to that exchange who confirmed my recollection. However when Mr. Barnbrook asked for a copy of the letter it wasn’t forthcoming.

A similar request to the Government recipient was met with the answer that there was no trace of it.

Mick went back to Bexley council to complain that his earlier FOI omitted to supply Legal Services’ letter. Their reply makes the situation very clear.

The response made by the London Borough of Bexley, 7th August, provided the link to the letter received from Mr. Bob Neill MP. Neither Mr. Akin Alabi, Head of Legal Services, nor any other Officer within Legal Services wrote to or communicated with Mr. Bob Neill MP or the Government on this matter. Therefore, no copy of a letter can be provided in response to your request.

So that wraps that one up. Whether Mr. Barnbrook, myself and two others all misunderstood what the Deputy Director said or it was an excuse made up at the time we shall never know. Next…

Councillor’s timesheets - FOI request

According to a recent publication, councillors in Tower Hamlets have to submit timesheets to show that they have put in the hours that enable them to claim their councillors’ allowance.

Why do Bexley Council not have any similar procedure in place in order to prevent fraud?

The slightly abbreviated answer was…

The requirement for Councillors in Bexley to sign in and out of meetings was discontinued many years ago, following advice from Central Government.

Councillors are required by legislation to attend meetings of the Authority and the sanction for non-attendance after a prescribed period is the removal of that Councillor from the Authority, unless the reason for their absence has been approved by the Authority before the expiry of that period.

It all seems fair enough to me but should perhaps be viewed in conjunction with the next answer.

Where’s Peter Craske? - FOI request

At a recent full council meeting, Teresa O’Neill, Leader of the Council, in answer to a question from a member of the public, stated that Councillor Peter Craske had resigned from the Council Cabinet for personal reasons.

Since resigning, Councillor Craske has not attended two recent ward surgeries. Is Councillor Craske still representing me as my ward councillor?

If so, please provide details of all duties, including attending internal council meetings, ward meetings, ward surgeries and other ward activities carried out by him since resigning from the Cabinet.

The question was answered in a straight forward manner. Here’s a summary…

Prior to his resignation as a Cabinet Member, Councillor Peter Craske did not serve on any Council Committee, therefore, since his resignation, he has not been required to attend any formal Council meetings, other than the meeting of the Full Council on Wednesday 18 July 2012, for which he was unable to attend.

Ward surgeries and other activities by Ward Councillors are not events that are recorded or monitored by the Authority.

There was never likely to be any other sort of response. Peter Craske remains a councillor and hasn’t done a thing towards earning his £9,418 a year since attending the council meeting on May 16th. It’s a fact and nothing can be done about it.

Craske's presentationCraske failed to show for his ‘Broadway presentation’ at the Public Realm meeting on 21st June 2012 too, coincidentally the day that a 42 year old from Sidcup was arrested for Misconduct in Public Office.

So that’s another question neatly wrapped up by Bexley council?

True; and Craske’s next opportunity to make an appearance is the council meeting scheduled for 7th November. If he doesn’t show his face there he will be in danger of being an absentee councillor for six whole months and the answer to the second FOI should come into play. “The sanction for non-attendance after a prescribed period is the removal of that Councillor from the Authority.”

Perhaps council leader Teresa O’Neill will have read the News Shopper’s report by then and realise the ‘Personal Reasons’ excuse is wearing a little thin.


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