Tag Archives: Freedom of Information Act

Network Rail explains transparent bogs

I RECENTLY made a Freedom of Information (FOI) request to Network Rail.

Thing is, I was down to meet some bods in King’s Cross and, before I headed back to Oxford, realised I needed a wee.  In King’s Cross proper, you have to pay money to get access to a bog, but I remembered that if you walked a few hundred feet, the bogs in St Pancras International are free.

But after I’d had my wee, my little brain started thinking about how it would be if elderly and foreign folk like yours truly didn’t have spare change to “spend a penny” – or 30 pence to 50 pence as it is on Network Rail stations these days. Public toilets seem to have disappeared.

Network Rail’s reply is interesting, and you can find it here. I will follow this up.

NR has a transparency policy and it does make a profit on its bogs, if you take the time to read the reply.  But, it insists that any money it makes is spent on “improving the facilities”.

It wants to discourage “illegal activities” and that’s why it’s thrown up barriers, although, let’s face it, 30 pence or 50 pence is hardly going to be a barrier to illegal activities in a bog.

I mean, call me cynical, but really Network Rail doesn’t give a toss about its customers and its bog policy, far from being transparent, is pretty damn opaque. 

The Freedom of Information Act is important

Dr Helen SainsburyALL UK JOURNALISTS ought to be up in arms at the internal panel instituted by the Tory government to review the Freedom of Information (FOI) legislation – particularly so because on the panel is a senior civil servant, Jack Straw and Michael Howard and no journalists whatever.

Let me give you by illustration a request I made to Vale of the White Horse Council in what was a marginal seat.  You can find the link here. After two months of incompetence, the folk are still unable to answer the very simple question. I am sure that councils don’t want to be bothered with requests like this.

Now, the thing is that we all know councils are hard pressed, but the fact is the Vale of the White Horse Council seemed to lose some postal votes just before the last general election.  And after several months, it is still unable to answer the basic question – why?  

Oxford’s Old Power Station seems to have a use

geeseA WHILE BACK, I sent a Freedom of Information request to Oxford University – I wanted to know what the future of this building was.

Here’s what the authorities said last year – Ox Uni “had no plans”. Now Oxford University has plans.

The Old Power Station has had an interesting past – in the late 1890s it provided electrical power to Oxford, fuelled by coal. A look at the 1901 census shows quite a few people in Mill Street worked as stokers to generate the energy.  As far as I’m aware, it’s been used for many purposes since, including, anecdotal evidence suggests, testing jet engines.  It is certainly much higher than it was originally.

I’m grateful to readers of this blog that have now indicated what its future might be.  According to this Congregation notice:

“The capital investment priorities of the University, covering building, equipment, IT infrastructure and provision for matching emerging opportunities, are set out in the Capital Masterplan approved by Council. Two of the capital priorities have bearing on the future of the Old Power Station building.

“The first is a need for a Joint Museums’ Collections Study Centre – a facility that would bring together those parts of the museums’ collections which are not on display, or otherwise located, within their main premises (including artefacts currently located in the Old Power Station), in a state-of-the-art facility.

“The second is a need for better and more centrally located facilities for the Executive Education programme offered by the Saïd Business School. That facility would provide space for teaching and social interaction, together with accommodation. The Old Power Station has been identified as an ideal location for this facility, being in close proximity to both the school and the railway station.

“As each individual project within the Capital Masterplan remains subject to the usual approval processes within the University, Congregation’s authority for this future use of space at the Old Power Station is now sought. Project approval, through Council and its Planning and Resource Allocation Committee, will be sought in due course.”

To that end, the resolution is: “That the Old Power Station building (building number 189), approximately 4,020 sqm net usable area, be allocated to the Saïd Business School for a period of thirty years, the allocation being effective upon the building becoming vacant and subject to Council giving approval for the project to convert the building into a new Executive Education facility to proceed to completion.”

Well shiver my timbers! Some of us locals would like to know if the people who live in the Executive Accommodation will buy us locals a round at The Kite – a pub built in the early years of the 20th century, no doubt to satisfy the thirst of the poor bloody stokers.   

Port Meadow campaign

Oxford City Council delays FOI requests

Through a glass, darkly

Unusually, in our experience, the normally *very* transparent Oxford City Council has decided to delay replying to two FOI (freedom of information)  requests and so is potentially breaking the law.

On the 14th of October 2014, we asked about Oxford’s surveillance of peoples’ bins after we got a snottogram from a functionary – you can read our request here.

Then, being sort of IT biased, we made a request of the cost of IT during the calendar year 2013. That request has been delayed too. You can read that request here.

Finally, we asked Oxford City Council the cost of hiring IT firm Capita to try and cut down the number of people claiming a 25 percent discount because they live alone.  We received a letter from said Capita saying if we didn’t reply, Oxford City Council reserved the right to knock off the discount. Fortunately, the letter was in 14 point Tahoma, so we could just about read it with a magnifying glass.

We haven’t had a response to that question either.

Transparency, through a glass darkly.  We have emailed the City Council meisters in charge of the requests.  Maybe they haven’t had the influenza immunization yet.

Councils can’t cost FOI

mikeonabeachI had two rather sweet replies to my most recent freedom of information requests to Oxford City Council and Oxfordshire County Council.

I had asked them if they could tell me and the world+dog how much it cost to fulfil their legal obligations to provide info about stuff.

Oxford City Council said: “Dear Mr Magee

”Further to the acknowledgement below, I can respond to your FOI request received on 3rd January 2014 as follows :

”There is no specific budget for dealing with Freedom of Information Act requests. The Corporate Secretariat Manager acts as the Council’s Freedom of Information Officer – it is not a full-time role. He is supported by an administrative assistant who works 20 hours per week. In addition, individual departments have officers who provide information to the Freedom of Information Officer so that responses can be sent. It is very difficult to ascertain the costs involved.

”Yours sincerely

”Michael Newman
Corporate Secretariat Manager
Oxford City Council”

→→→→→→→→→→→→→→→→→

Oxfordshire County Council said much the same: “Dear Mr Magee,

”Thank you for your request of 3rd January 2014 in which you requested
information about the estimated annual cost of administering and
responding to Freedom of Information requests.

”Oxfordshire County Council does not hold information relating to your
request. This is because the role of administering freedom of information
requests is carried out as part of an officers wider role.

”In order to advise and assist, the Council has co-ordinators in each
Directorate of the Council who assist with FOI requests as well as other
administrative tasks. The Corporate Team has two members of staff who
advise on FOI legislation but they also have other roles, such as logging
corporate complaints which are made in writing or via the telephone as
well as responding to Information Commissioner and Local Government
Ombudsman investigations. Therefore it is not possible to provide you with
a figure, estimated or otherwise, as to the cost of administering FOI
requests in isolation.

“Please let me know if you have further enquiries. I would be grateful if
you could use the reference number given at the top of this email.

”Yours sincerely,

”Claire V Buller
Complaints and Freedom of Information Officer
Oxfordshire County Council
Law and Culture
County Hall”

You can make FOI requests of your own, at this excellent site,  here.