Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Delaying decisions, dodging questions, juggling figures, bending facts and concealing errors

Hasn't made his mind up yet

The DMCS have replied to my request on the advice given (if any) to the minister on whether he should intervene in any cases where library cuts are taking place. Sadly they department has refused to release the advice citing a FOI exemption. Initially they delayed citing : "section 36 (prejudice to the effective conduct of public affairs.)"And now they have refused citing: “section 35 (formulation of government policy)”Odd that they delayed on one section but then refused on another, I will follow up on this and update the post. Below is the full reasons given as to why they won’t release the information:

1 “No final decisions have been taken by the Secretary of State to date
on library cases and there needs to be a free space in which it is
possible for officials and ministers to conduct rigorous and fair
assessments of library cases, including consideration of the pros and
cons of any proposed decision, without fear of premature disclosure. “

2 “In circumstances where final policy decisions have yet to be taken, it
may be unhelpful for the public to have access to interim advice which
is in the process of revision and development and this would detract
from informed debate rather than assist it. Current policy advice is
in the process of being updated and amended as developments unfold and
may not necessarily be accepted by the Secretary of State without
further scrutiny. We therefore consider that the public interest in
seeing interim advice at this stage is limited.”

3  “The public interest lies primarily in knowing the reasoning behind any
final decision by the Secretary of State. Current library
investigations are on-going and in the process of development. For all
library cases it is likely that a minded-to decision will be issued,
as in the case of Brent, to allow for final representations to be made
by local campaigners. When a final decision is made on any library
case a full explanation of the reasoning behind that decision will be
set out in the decision letter itself. We consider that the decision
letter would meet the public interest in understanding why the
Secretary of State has decided to intervene or not in any particular

4 “ In practice, were officials’ advice to ministers to be released, there
would be reduced space in which ministers could hold a free and frank
conversation with officials. Any queries they might raise or requests
for additional briefing would be subject to disclosure and open to
interpretation and comment by members of the public. Ministers may
therefore be placed in a position of having to explain publicly their
reasoning at every step. This may result in ministers and officials
coming under increasing political pressure around their thinking in
this area and is likely to result in poorer decision-making.”

5 “Disclosure of the advice given to ministers to date may affect the
ability to ask probing questions of local authorities on the back of
such advice and this may also impact on the quality of the
decision-making process. The public interest lies in conducting a
full, rigorous and fair assessment of the library authority concerned
to enable a properly informed decision by the Secretary of State at
the end of that process.”

6  “The Department is at present subject to a voluminous amount of
correspondence and pressure from campaign groups about public library
closures. Release of policy advice provided to date is likely to fuel
more correspondence and criticism from campaigners without adding”
substantively to the central issues being considered here.

What they have said is that advice has been given to the minister for the following authorities: London Borough of Brent, the Isle of Wight, Lewisham, Gloucestershire and Somerset. It specifically mentions Brent above where libraries have already been stripped of books. Gloucestershire and Somerset won legal challenges and in Gloucestershire’s case despite being guilty of bad government the new proposals are little different to the first.  I’m astounded that the minister still hasn’t made a decision when up and down the country libraries are being closed, budgets are being cut and the library service is being decimated. I'm going to ask for a internal review and when that returns the same decision will ask the ICO to look into it. If anyone has anything you wish me to point out when I do this please leave a comment or tweet me. Its a shame none of us work for news international, we could text Hunt and he would be courtesy bound to reply.

When Sir Humphrey was asked by the Jim Hacker what skills are required to be a minister he replied:” Delaying decisions, dodging questions, juggling figures, bending facts and concealing errors

The link to the FOI request:

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Scrutiny in public life #fail

One of the great things about Leveson is the through and incisive questioning by Robert Jay. Not only is this because Jay has a good grasp of the subject matter, its also because there is sufficient time given to properly grill the people giving evidence. I saw Evan Davis tweet this:

Which puts me to mind of the old phrase "never a truer word spoken in jest". The quality of the interviews on the BBC's flagship radio program does leave a lot of be desired. The time given to each topic is too short and the presenters can sometimes be frustrating with the line they take. I do like Evan but his questions are sometimes so long and leading I almost expect the interviewee to just respond with Yes or No.  When John Humphries is doing more features based stuff out in the field I find him thoughtful, insightful and very warm. In debates I find him annoying though. The other day they had a piece on the court deciding that ISP's have to block pirate bay. There were a lot of very important issues of net neutrality that should have been discussed but Humphies just kept shouting PORN every so often and of the two guests neither were really making the case for net neutrality (a MP and a representative of the ISP's). Blocking pirate bay was nothing to do with porn and was everything to do with protecting the interests of the film and music industry. John was clearly channelling the Daily Mail again that day.

Which brings me back to Robert Jay and proper scrutiny of those in public life. Watching Jay taking Hunt and others apart has reinforced my view that the current scrutiny we have is too poor. The select committees are choc full of party toadies and are not able to scrutinise policy effectively, the media cannot really hold ministers to account because the interviews are too short to have any meaningful debate and in quite a few cases the interviewers don't have a proper grasp of the subject matter and conduct the interview trying to simplify the complicated, very few things in life are as simple as yes or no.

What I would love to see is a weekly one hour show, one interviewer and a minister or shadow minister really getting grilled properly on one specific policy. They could really get into the detail and it would also show us how much the minister really understands the policy he or she promotes.

The problem is though, it would never happen for two reasons: First the media think we are all thick and cannot handle more than three minutes on one topic, second I doubt there are any ministers that would go on because they would be shown to be the useless, ideological automatons they really are.