“Too rude” says Slough as it refuses FOI request into Bagley pay-off
Slough Borough Council has taken the unusual step of refusing to respond to a Freedom of Information Request about former CEO Ruth Bagley’s golden handshake – because of the “vexatious” nature of the request.
Communications officers at Slough Borough Council are no stranger to being abused on social media sites such as Facebook or (the shortly to be defunct) Streetlife by residents angry about missed bin collections, school run parking, and, more recently, road closures. The role, clearly, needs a particularly thick skin … and a sense of humour.
Similarly, responding to Freedom of Information (FOI) requests made to the council cannot be the easiest of tasks at the best of times. With 598 requests made to the council in the past 5 years through the whatdotheyknow.com website alone, the measure – designed to introduce more transparency into local and central government – has become a major undertaking. Long abused by software companies seeking tender anniversaries and dominated by journalists, and angry residents, the Freedom of Information Act has never been exactly what it was expected to be when it came into force in 2005 – vital, though it may be.
… the request goes beyond the level of criticism that a public authority or individual employee, should reasonably expect to receive …
But, this year, things have reached tipping point. The normally placid FOI officer at SBC has finally snapped, refusing to accept the “unjustified level of irritation and distress” the latest request was obviously intended to cause.
Slough resident Rob Phillips’ angry campaign against Slough Borough Council appears to have begun on at the end of last year, when he set up the blog “SBC Concerns” designed to “get the whole picture of corruption and scandal that envelops the whole [Slough Borough Council] administration” using the FOI Act, and ultimately force a debate in Parliament.
With 42 FOI requests already made to the council so far this year, 16 have been made by Mr Phillips alone. He has demanded information on topics as varied as parking penalties in the town centre, the funding of paving slabs, electoral fraud in the borough, abuse of council homes, allegation of harassment by SBC staff – and, of course, confirmation of the claim that Ruth Bagley’s pay-off from the council at the end of last year came to £300,000.
The nature of the request failed to impress:
I have been informed by Slough Times that Ruth Bagley has just received a severance payout of £300k. Is this correct when she appears to be the person who should have been detained under The Mental Health Act? Can you confirm the Salary of the former CEO of SBC. And also the current Salary of Acting CEO Mike England?
Yesterday Slough’s FOI office responded, making it clear the tone of the request was completely unacceptable:
“After careful consideration of the tone and language used in your request the council have concluded that the request goes beyond the level of criticism that a public authority or individual employee , (regardless of level of seniority within the authority), should reasonably expect to receive. The council believe the request is ultimately designed to cause an unjustified level of irritation and distress and is therefore vexatious”.
The council officer has pointed to a clause in the FOI Act itself that does not oblige a public authority to comply with a request for information if the request is deemed to be vexatious.
While the request was refused, Mr Phillips, it seems, is unrepentant. Rather than reformulate and submit a more refined request he has demanded an internal review of Slough’s handling of the request – along with four others he has been unhappy with his response.
As for confirmation on Ms Bagley’s pay-off, that, unfortunately, will have to wait for another day.