Posts Tagged ‘WhatDoTheyKnow’

Call for Action: Freedom of Information under threat?

November 15, 2015

The Campaign for Freedom of Information provides a useful resume of the threat to democracy and to those who seek accountability of Public Bodies funded through the public purse.

In July the Government announced that a Commission would be set up to to examine the FOI Act and consider what further restrictions should be imposed on the right to know.

The Prime Minister also confirmed that policy responsibility for Freedom of Information policy will transfer from the Ministry of Justice to the Cabinet Office. This change will be effective from 17 July 2015.

After sitting for 3 months, the Commission has now finally invited the public to submit evidence to it.  The Consultation closes this Friday, 20 November 2015 and we understand that the results are promised by the end of November!

Already 140 campaign groups and media bodies and others have written to the Prime Minister expressing concerns about the composition and terms of reference of the Commission.

Readers have a week to compose a response to the consultation, will this campaign to clamp down on open transparent governance and accounting attract as good a response as the recent attempts to ‘challenge’ the Habitats Directives? That consultation we understand attracted some 552,471 responses!

The Campaign are asking people to consider some easy actions:

Respond to the consultation drawing on your own experience of the value of the FOI Act

Write to your MP

Submit your FOI stories to saveFOI.uk

Sign a petition, 38 degree petition to Protect FoI Laws here

There is also a petition option for journalists to sign, via Change.org here

Public Bodies are required to have regard and to comply with the Freedom of Information Act.  Whilst many are efficient and indeed helpful there are other Public Bodies which publish material without provision of primary source evidence, there are Public Bodies which try to evade compliance through selective narrative and dissembling, some Public Bodies assert applicants are persistent / vexatious complainers in an endaevour to avoid providing information about activity or spend of public funds, is this demonstrable open and transparent conduct of business?  To avoid wasting time and suffering such problems readers might like to consider using using Whatdotheyknow as a tool to submit FoI requests.  The benefit of this route is that any request is public, anyone researching the Public Body you are seeking information from can also benefit from the information you receive.  It is visible to the entire world wide web (www).  Even when Whatdotheyknow is utilised, there is often only partial success but that is illustrative of compliance level as well as tactics used by Public Bodies?  Please note other options are available and the Forum has no ‘Interest’ in this website, but we do recognise the excellent service it provides to members of the public and researchers.  Whatdotheyknow are also appealing to people to act to save FoI

Comments on the My Society page suggests that they would like to see it expanded not curtailed, bring it on?  There are also some interesting suggestions as to the reason behind the Prime Minister’s plans?

 

Greenblobpride

Advertisements

IDB accountability part 2 …

January 28, 2015

We wrote yesterday of issues around Internal Drainage Boards and accessing information funded through the public purse, today we continue analysis of the workings of these Public Bodies.

This post poses the question, why has the governance of these amalgamated Boards taken so long to be established?  Even after two years as well as a Shadow Board operating before final amalgamation, it seems that there are policies and procedures still being written and sub-committees still being set up?

What also causes the Forum concern are the number of wetland habitats in the DEIDB area which are in unfavourable condition. More worrying is that there seems to be an inertia to address such issues, despite the establishment of an Environment Committee within the DEIDB, there appears little by way of tangible action?  Two such examples of inaction or neglect despite knowledge of the situation (and recorded in Board minutes) might be at Haxey Grange Fen (another site in decline and neglected by statutory Public Bodies) and Hatfield Chase Drains SSSI?

In 2007 the Forum undertook a survey of a number of these SSSI Drains and concluded that they were still declining, the findings of the survey was reported to both Natural England, the IDB and the Environment Agency at the time and a paper published in 2011 in Thorne & Hatfield Moors Papers Volume 8.

P1030455

The image shows North Engine Drain, a SSSI maintained by the Environment Agency. 

Wildlife friendly maintenance can be seen with vegetation cuts done on rotation. 

Regular readers might also recall that we have sought information about transparent governence through the WhatDoTheyKnow website, details of FoI requests to the DDC can be found and progress followed here. Doncaster East IDB here.

Are the Doncaster Boards management services delivering good governance are they mindful of procedure and open conduct where public funds are concerned? We would encourage all readers to take an interest in the work of local drainage boards, they are not just about drainage but biodiversity and water management which includes flood defence.  Why not attend Board meetings as a member of the public, observe conduct of those in public office …. sadly the public were excluded from the ‘extraordinary’ meeting of Board Chairs of 9 July 2014 and despite what the minutes record, the minutes of the second meeting are not yet released …. yes, we made a request hoping that they would be furnished in a timely manner having naively assumed that they were written almost immediately after those already posted (four months later on 18 November 2014) on the web for 9 July 2014. Our request made 9 January received the standard …. a reply in 20 days!  Watch this space for the outcome?

The next meetings, open to the public are those of the Danvm Drainage Commissioners on Friday 6 February 2015 at 9.30am, the meeting papers are available as a download via the Shire Group of IDBs but they do not provide the detail of the venue.  The next meeting scheduled for the Doncaster East IDB is to be held on Friday 13 February 2015 (generally an afternoon meeting) but there is no detail or papers yet available on the Shire Group of IDBs website.  The Clerk to both Boards can be contacted on 01302 337798.

Let’s hope we are able to report positive updates tomorrow, in the interim we are considering creating a database of the number of Freedom of Information requests made to Shire Group of IDBs management services relating to IDBs …. now, as we have previously mentioned the Forum observe three ‘local’ Boards but there are others this company currently provide services to, so watch this space?

To get a flavour of ‘neighbouring’ campaigners see:

Drainage Board Governance and Accountability

Management of the Board

With some fifteen FoIs identified on the WhatDoTheyKnow website, this lady is clearly a determined campaigner and a champion of accountable governance where public funds are concerned.

Whatever it is they [DMBC] know about the Danvm Drainage Commissioners, they don’t want to tell the public?

August 20, 2014

Readers were reminded on Monday about our Freedom of Information request to Doncaster Metropolitan Borough Council about an Internal Audit undertaken on the Danvm Drainage Commissioners.

P1020692Fishlake Mining Subsidence Remediation Scheme: an example a project promoted by the Dun Drainage Commissioners and later their successors the Danvm DC.

DMBC had failed to comply with its own procedures.  Its own initial acknowledgement indicated a reply would be provided by 15 August, so five days overdue (or three if you accept the WhatDoTheyKnow website advice) and as there was no request for additional time we submitted a request for an Internal Review yesterday ….  today we receive an email update and a response was provided.

The FoI was made 19 July and it has taken until 20 August to “Refusal to Disclose Information” and then the reply describes it as the Danum Drainage Board.  It is now Danvm (note the spelling, a Board decision and one which DMBC were a party to) and they are the Drainage Commissioners, minor points maybe but this kind of inspection and performance is surely about attention to detail?

Notice under Section 17(1) of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 – REFUSAL TO DISCLOSE INFORMATION

Decision:

After carefully considering your request, the Council has decided to refuse to disclose the information you have asked for under Section 22 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000.

Basis for decision:

This law allows us to refuse to disclose information through the Freedom of Information Act process which is “information intended for future publication”. This is called an “exemption”.

Anyway, in short they are not prepared to release the information funded through the public purse until the Clerks to the DDC have seen it first.  The local IDBs including the two ‘super-boards’ are serviced by the Shire-Group of IDBs.  Read the rest of the letter via the WhatDoTheyKnow website here.

Why they cannot also release it to enquirers on the same day is not clear, a sceptic might then be forgiven for thinking  that perhaps then the Clerk and Administrator to the DDC will elect to apply their procedure and to take a further 20 days to provide it – this is open and transparent government?

Internal Drainage Boards have come under increasing scrutiny in recent years, and some organisations involved in attempting to hold them to account would consider this to be long overdue.  Many receive substantive amounts of public funding by way of Special Levy.  It is only recently that all the Local Authority nominated appointees have begun to attend and take an active part in scrutinising the business and conduct of local IDBs.  The Audit of Accounts 2010 – 2011 of the Caldicot and Wentlooge Levels IDB Report In the Public Interest makes quite astonishing reading …. is that of the Danvm Drainage Commissioners going to be a variation?

What would, in our opinion, have been prudent ahead of the amalgamations of the smaller localised IDBs in the area would have been thorough audits and appraisals in the public interest, but for some reason there does not appear to be rigorous application of best practice governance in this area.  If we revisit the analysis of the Defra encouraged amalgamations which created two large ‘super-boards’ in this area (Humberhead Levels) then we might be forgiven for asking why Defra the government agency responsible for Land Drainage did not require independent audit of each of the local boards as they were subsumed into the new arrangement?

So, will this DDC Audit Report see the light of day, will it be made available to the public?  Who will be found to be wanting?  Will there be any action if there is found to be any ‘issue(s)’?

Readers might recall the incident where a landowners lawful tenant caused damage to a SSSI on the periphery of Thorne Moors SSSI, neither the Rural Paymants Agency nor Natural England acted to either recover public funds or investigate the impact on the special feature of the SSSI.  Austerity measures introduced across many public services and yet no recovery of public funds where there was clear breach of cross compliance &c.?

 

DMBC What Do They Know about Danvm Drainage Commissioners?

August 18, 2014

Regular readers may recall the post of 20 July when we reported submitting a Freedom of Information request through the website WhatDoTheyKnow.  Well the deadline for a response, according to the website is 18 August.  That’s today …. but I suppose that technically they have until midnight?

DMBC did respond quickly to confirm receipt of the enquiry

Dear Thorne & Hatfield Moors Conservation Forum

Re: Request for information under the Freedom of Information Act 2000

Thank you for your request for information.

Your request has been passed to the Audit department. They will endeavour to search for any information held to provide you with a response as soon as is possible within 20 working days and in any case by the 15th August 2014.

Yours sincerely

Sarah Winn
Finance & Corporate Services,
Customer Services & ICT
Doncaster Council, Civic Office, Waterdale, Doncaster, DN1 3BU

So, absolutely nothing not even a request to extend the period of search.  What should we do next?  Given that DMBC indicated that we would receive a reply by 15 August, we have requested an internal review of this case and their handling of it.

Many Drainage Boards are archaic in their modus operandi, even those which have ‘modernised’ operate under some interesting governance regimes.  Examples of this can be found in the minutes which are sometimes made available on their websites.  Those for the DDC for example are located in ‘News’, ten sets are available with the earliest available are from 2012.

The Forum’s area of geographic interest is broadly speaking the Humberhead Levels and the Drainage Boards which operate around Thorne & Hatfield Moors SSSI and the peripheral wetlands include the Doncaster East IDB, the Black Drain DB and the Danvm Drainage Commissioners.  Members of the public are entitled to observe conduct of business by these boards as generally the majority of funding received by the boards is through Special Levy (public funds).

 

Thorne Moors A Botanical Survey …. hot off the press & available now

July 29, 2014

Well, at long last it’s in print!  The first ever checklist of the botanical interest of Thorne Moors.  To Ian McDonald who initiated the project well done, to Paul Buckland as Editor a massive thank you for seeing it through the process and into print!  Many have extended blood, sweat and in all probibility a few tears over this mammoth undertaking but it is now to others to judge ‘a book not by its cover but its content’?

A considerable tome, some 265 pages many in colour with some superb photographs of the flora (including the bryophytes) and habitats found on Thorne Moors NNR — a bargain at only a tenner!  That price is thanks to financial support from JBA Trust and Natural England and the Forum Executive deciding to make this publication more readily accessible to students, researchers and local community at an affordable price.

Copies can be obtained by sending a cheque made payable to Thorne & Hatfield Moors Conservation Forum for either £15.75 (first class post) or £14.10 (second class post) to Thorne & Hatfield Moors Conservation Forum (TMABS) PO Box 879, Thorne, Doncaster, DN8 5WU.  Copies will be sent in Mail Lite padded bags through the Royal Mail small parcel system.  We will acknowledge receipt of orders & payment and upon diaptch will obtain a proof of postage, if potential purchasers require a ‘signed for’ or ‘special delivery’ service then please contact execsec@thmcf.org to make the necessary arrangements.

TMABS front scan

Regular readers of the blog will be aware that the Forum submitted a FoI request in respect of the Danvm Drainage Commissioners.   To update readers that Doncaster MBC has acknowledged receipt of our request for a copy of the DDC Audit Report.  Interestingly the notification asks you to update the status of the enquiry to indicate if the response contained useful information.  The reply was an acknowledgement of the enquiry, certainly not what we’d describe as a response, that will come in due course or more precisely “within 20 working days and in any case by the 15th August 2014”.

Readers can subscribe via WhatDoTheyKnow and follow the enquiry and already we have one such follower.

 

DMBC What Do They Know about the Danvm Drainage Commissioners?

July 20, 2014

Readers may recall Forum involvement with a Mining Subsidence Remediation Scheme around Fishlake, a delightful rural hamlet amidst a once much more substantive pastoral landscape.  It is sad to report that over the last couple of decades it has been evolving into an agri-industrialised landscape which has lost many hedgerows, dew ponds and other wildlife friendly corners as every inch is maximised for commercial return.  As smaller family farms struggle to survive many are forced to quit and they become subsumed into larger more economically viable units.

The Fishlake Mining Subsidence Remediation Scheme was promoted through the Danvm Drainage Commissioners and funded through the Coal Authority.

P1020691

Massively engineered drainage channels, missing wildlife friendly options are increasingly a feature of the agricultural landscape of today.

The Forum presented a case that this scheme was excessive in terms of loss of ancient hedgerows and as a result of local lobbying the scheme was amended slightly and less hedgerow lost.  What was not fully explored at the time, in our opinion, was a detailed cost benefit analysis in terms of public funds.

Internal Drainage Boards, archaic institutions whose membership comprises landowners (generally agricultural interests in this area) and Local Authority appointees.  In recent years many of the smaller Boards have amalgamated and the areas now covered are considerable in terms of acreage, or perhaps one should convert to the metric unit hectare.

There are three local Boards which the Forum take particular interest in are Black Drain DB, Danvm Drainage Commissioners and Doncaster East IDB.

Members of the public, the special levy payer are entitled to attend Board meetings as observers.  In recent years some of the Board papers have become public documents and some are available on the Shire Group of IDBs website.

WhatDoTheyKnow is a tool whereby members of the public can request information from statutory agencies and authorities.  The Forum has made such a request of Doncaster Metropolitan Borough Council in the matter of the recent Audit of the Danvm Drainage Commissioners.  Click here to see that request and follow its progress by subscribing to the website updates.

We are not anticipating that DMBC will release the Audit Report as we understand that there are issues around its findings, but we will keep readers posted of developments.

As an independent observer in some of these meetings I have heard more than once the reminder that IDBs must modernise and demonstrate public benefit, the shadow of  Caldicot & Wentlooge Levels Internal Drainage Board Audit (2010 – 11)  hangs heavily in the background and as a reminder of accountability.

This report is issued in the public interest under Section 22 of the Public Audit (Wales) Act 2004. I have issued this report to draw the public’s attention to a failure in governance arrangements and inadequacies in management and internal control at Caldicot and Wentlooge Levels Internal Drainage Board. As a result of such failures the Drainage Board has, in my view, acted unlawfully on occasions.

I have concluded that the Drainage Board has not been governed and managed effectively for a number of years. I found that its governance framework was inadequate and some elements I would have expected to find within a robust governance framework were absent.

The findings of the above report might be somewhat astonishing, particularly to the public ?  Even now, to anyone trying to understand the complexities which still operate and who witness the conduct of members of these Boards, it is clear that there is still a way to go in terms of accountability and modernisation?  Hats of to those who have triggered the DDC Audit and here’s to reading the report in due course.


BIRDING SITE GUIDE - Birding Site Guide

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

Hatfield Moors Birding Blog

Bird and other wildlife information service for Hatfield Moors, South Yorkshire, UK © HMBSG 17/11/2010

Mark Avery

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

a new nature blog

I write about politics, nature + the environment. Some posts are serious, some not. These are my views, I don't do any promotional stuff and these views are not being expressed for anyone who employs me.

UK and Ireland Natural History Bloggers

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?