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Access to (what should be) open source information - Town and Parish Newsletter(s)

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What a state of affairs....

The county council publishes a monthly 'newsletter' to town and parish councils which it 'expects' to be distributed by clerks to PCs (we already know how some people treat 'knowledge as power' and the inefficiency that exists in distribution of information in some organisations.)

A request to the county council to be added to the automated email distribution list for the town and parish newsletter resulted in the following response:

"...Thanks for your email. Please could you let me know which parish or town council you represent? And whether you are a clerk or a councillor..?"

Reasonable enough....  Replied:

"...Candidate for May PC election..."

Which garnered the response:

"...Thanks for clarifying that.  The Town and Parish Council Newsletter is sent to town and parish council clerks for distribution to their councillors. We’ll be updating the mailing list after the elections and can add you to the list at that point if you have been elected and still wish to receive a copy direct from Cornwall Council.  In the meantime, you might like to sign up to our residents’ newsletter if you haven’t already..."

So here we go again:

"...Thank you for your reply.  I will re-state my request to be added to the mailing distribution list (with immediate effect) for the Town and Parish Council Newsletter which I presume is fully automated and has no particular administrative or financial implications.  The alternative of course would be to submit a request for copy through the FoI process which - obviously - would have administrative and financial implications.  I already subscribe to the “residents” newsletter.  Appreciate your further attention…"

What is it with people trying to keep (what should be) open source information as a closely guarded secret?

asked by (6.3k points)

1 Answer

0 votes
Cornwall CC may fell that the subject material would not be of interest to the general public but the claim that providing it through an FOI request would have financial implications is dubious.  An efficient or truly open council would make it available to download from their website for anyone who cared to want to read it.
answered by (23.7k points)
How is it "dubious" to suggest that an FoI request would have financial implications?
The information already exists in an easily deliverable format with no additional admin other than adding an email address to a distribution list.

An FoI request carries considerable additional expense in the form of administrative burden.

The information is clearly deemed to be of sufficient "interest" to warrant it's distribution, why would it make any sense to intentionally constrict that information availability by attaching an arbitrary restriction upon it?

The request for access is sufficient to demonstrate an "interest" in the content - just send it out.  The alternative is an unnecessary and costly process which will inevitably result in the information being made available.

This is EXACTLY the sort of local authority madness which is resulting in an ever increasing council tax burden.
It is progressing entirely as anticipated....

From LA:

"...Thanks for getting in touch again.

As the audience for this publication is town and parish councils, we will only consider adding people to the mailing list who are parish clerks or councillors.

Therefore we are unable grant your request to be added to the mailing list at this point. As mentioned previously, we would be happy to add you to the mailing list after the elections if you are elected..."

Reply to LA:

Please treat this correspondence as a Freedom of Information / Environmental Information Request and forward to the appropriate department.

I would be most grateful if you could forward by return at this email address all monthly Town and Parish newsletters issued to town and parish councils from Jan 2021 to present day.  Electronic file format would be acceptable to minimise costs..."
And so the tortuous wheels of bureaucracy grind slowly and inexorably towards a conclusion...
As you say if the information is in the public domain what’s the problem on adding you to a circulation list
Almost without exception whenever I ask for information from my Parish Council ( of which I am a Councillor) I hit a brick wall and a complaint has now been lodged that I’m being intimidating by using the FOI to try to get information even though some of it should already been in the public domain

Some Parish Councils have become a law unto theirselves and need bringing down a peg or two so maybe set some rules and freeze or reduce the precept if they don’t comply
First off....  It is OUTRAGEOUS that a Cllr (or anybody) has to resort to FoI in order to extract info from their own council.  Not outrageous that you have done it, outrageous that they have forced you to.

Have you formally requested the information from the chair?  The chair and / or HR committee should direct the clerk to release the information (if that is where the blockage is.)

Actually, (if it is a councillor that is preventing your access) the code of conduct complaint should be FROM you AGAINST who ever it is that is preventing you from accessing information to which you are reasonably entitled.  If it is the clerk then it should be a complaint FROM you to the chair / HR committee.

Get your request in writing.  Get a complaint in if you feel it is an unreasonable prevention of you seeing what you need to see.  If that doesn't work copy it all to the internal and external auditor.
It’s already with the Monitoring Officer, what happened was I got so fed up I self reported myself
I’ll let you know how I get on
But you're not at fault - if all you have done is ask for info?
As we are drifting off topic I’ve sent you a private message
Nothing in the inbox?
How did you know it was CC Graeme?
You quoted "Cornwall Council" in the body of your question text
Yes, just seen it! Dhoooh! Thought I’d anonymised it
So here we are then:

Thank you for your Freedom of Information (FOI)/Environmental Information Regulations (EIR) request. In normal circumstances we will provide a response within 20 working days of receiving your request. There may be a small number of occasions where we may need to extend the 20 working day deadline. We will inform you if this is likely.

What a pity there was nobody with the vision and foresight to realise the business of a "communications officer" at a LA is actually to COMMUNICATE!

I can't help but feel, part of the problem with communication of relevant information - whether that be internal within a PC or LA to PC or LA/PC to public - is that people are often too ready to accept "no" as the answer.
The answer should almost always be "yes" as the default with "no" only used with exceptional justification.
Before I became a Parish Councillor I asked for some information that should have been in the public domain and they wrote asking for £1.25 ( 25 pence per sheet ) I asked them for an invoice which they sent I paid and asked for a receipt which they sent
In my workplace we estimated the cost of a letter at around £20 you can’t parody them !
The organisation presented with an FOI can seek recompense for reasonable costs for reproduction and postage. Not staff costs though. I’ve asked for the T&P newsletters in e-copy (just as they are) - no admin cost. There would have been no staff cost to the LA either if the “communications officer” knew what her job title meant and just added me to the mailing list.

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