Following our exclusive report last week on how Sutton was cynically trying to frustrate public questions submitted through a widely accepted online platform, the council quickly issued a statement. But what they claimed was not entirely true. CARL SHILTON picks up the story
“What a difference an Inside Croydon report can make,” one Sutton councillor said after a missive from the Civic Offices on St Nicholas Way plopped into his email inbox on Friday.
More than two weeks after the council had quietly, some might say slyly, tried to stop taking Freedom of Information requests from the widely used and recognised WhatDoTheyKnow online platform, Sutton had issued a statement regarding changes to what they called “our FoI processes”.
It was no coincidence that just 24 hours earlier, Inside Croydon had outed Liberal Democrat-controlled Sutton Council for its attempts to shut down FoI requests via WDTK – at a time when many families with children with special educational needs and disabilities – SEND – had been using the platform to gather vital information for their appeals against what they maintain has been the illegal denial of their statutory services by the council.
WDTK had also reacted to Sutton Council’s attempt to shut them down, by diverting all FoIs that they received for Sutton to the council’s £150,000 per year CEO, the LibDem stooge Helen Bailey.
Startled by a smidgeon of publicity, the council’s response was a feeble effort to cover their tracks and justify their previously unpublicised, almost secretive, changes to their “FoI processes”.
The council claimed, “A new system for handling Freedom of Information requests will provide a quicker, more efficient and transparent service.” Which is exactly what WDTK already does, at no cost to the Council Tax-payer, and which Sutton has tried to block.
A statement was posted on the council’s website on Friday afternoon, attributing a quote to an anonymous “Sutton Council spokesperson”.
“Sutton Council launched a new Freedom of Information (FoI) request service on Wednesday 4 September,” it said. It wasn’t much of a “launch”, though, since Sutton failed to tell anyone about this “new” service until forced into action – more than two weeks later.
“Residents can now make requests through a new system on our website, enabling a quicker, more efficient and more transparent service,” the unnamed spokesperson asserted.
“The new service publishes our responses on our website, helping to increase transparency and prevent the need for residents to unknowingly make duplicate requests. This means those interested can now also review answers to previous FoI requests.
“We respond to around 1,300 FoI requests a year. Our response rates are amongst the highest in London, with over 90 per cent of requests responded to within target deadlines. This is an achievement that has been recognised by the Information Commissioner’s Office.”
Yadda-yadda-yadda, as they pat themselves on their own back for doing what they are actually paid to do, and meanwhile admitting that in 1-in-10 cases they are breaking the law by failing to provide a response within the generous 20 working days time limit set down by Freedom of Information Act.
But then came the lie.
“Most requests already come through our website. Whilst we have recently used an automated reply to any email requests we have received, all such requests will still receive a response. None have been missed.”
Those are our italics, because that is simply untrue. And Sutton Council knows it is untrue, so therefore it is a deliberate lie, bought and paid-for with Council Tax-payers’ money.
As one local teccie type told Inside Croydon on seeing this blatant attempt by Sutton Council to deceive the very people they are meant to serve: “This isn’t true. FoI requests to Sutton Council were missed.
“People who used WhatDoTheyKnow were told to re-submit their requests by another method because the one they’d used had been ended.”
Sutton’s statement continued briefly by claiming that they are still responding to “requests received through the email@example.com mailbox and we will advise residents how they can make future requests on our website.”
In the meantime, anyone can also send in an FoI request to Sutton Council via the very nice and diligent people at WhatDoTheyKnow. You might ask, for instance, “How many FoI requests, between September 4 and September 20 this year, submitted through the WhatDoTheyKnow platform, did the council advise to be re-submitted?” Or you can come up with a question of your own, of course, and submit it through WDTK, which you can access by just clicking here.
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