Havering's ULEZ FOI Failures
When someone submits a Freedom of Information Request, to Havering Council (LBH), a reply is due within 20 working days.
I have two overdue requests, submitted 75 and 86 days ago. Both are concerning ULEZ. Both leave me concerned about our ability to hold the Labour / RA council to account.
Unfortunately, I've now had to make complaints to the Information Commissioner's Office.
Councillors, councils, government, public bodies and so on are all subject to Freedom of Information Requests (FOIs). This is because they spend public money and are there to serve the public. An FOI can be a useful tool to find out information, especially if it's being purposefully left out. Journalists often submit FOIs in order to find information for their stories.
I've used FOIs with Havering Council, in the past. I've asked for data on Parking Charge Notices, for example. LBH have always replied in a timely and accurate manner.
Just a few months ago, Conservatives Leader Cllr Damian White asked Cllr Morgon to share some information. He was told to submit an FOI and Cllr Morgon repeated his usual line that "This administration is not afraid of scrutiny".
If Cllr Morgon isn't afraid, then I don't know why he didn't just authorise the information to be published there and then. Surely, asking the Leader of the Opposition to submit an FOI is just being obstructive...
I submitted two FOI relating to ULEZ.
Grounds for Refusal
LBH and other public bodies don't have to give you everything you ask for. There are 3, legitimate, grounds for refusal.
1) It will cost too much to get the information. The cost is usually capped at £400
2) The information is already publicly available
3) The request is too similar to one already made and replied to
LBH - TFL Emails
The first FOI was asking for a copy of correspondence between LBH and TFL / Mayor Khan's Office. As well as any from The Leader (Cllr Ray Morgon) and TFL / Mayor Khan.
This, I believe, is a reasonable request.
Cllrs emails can be subject to an FOI, if they are concerning council business. I view correspondence between LBH / TFL as in the public interest.
My first FOI was refused on the grounds that the information I requested was publicly available. I was sent to a link, on LBH's website, that summarised the council's position on ULEZ.
https://www.havering.gov.uk/download/downloads/id/5591/ulez_response_from_august_2022.pdfhttps://www.havering.gov.uk/news/article/1175/ulez_expansion_havering_council_responseImproving air quality and Londoners' health, tackling climate change and reducing congestion | Have Your Say Transport for London (tfl.gov.uk)
This doesn't answer my request and so I requested a review.
My original request was submitted on 19th Jan 2023. I have not yet had a reply to my request to review the decision, which was made on 17th Feb 2023.
HRA - Labour Emails
My second FOI is, perhaps, a little more controversial. I requested a copy of emails between Labour Leader Cllr Keith Darvill and HRA Leader Cllr Ray Morgon, relating to ULEZ.
I understand that this FOI request may be denied, if the information is not subject to an FOI. Not every Cllr email is. However, some can be.
This second FOI was submitted on 30th Jan 2023 and was acknowledged as received by LBH.
75 days later and I have still not received a reply. Not even a refusal.
"Not afraid of scrutiny"
If this administration is "not afraid of scrutiny" then it has a funny way of showing it.
Us opposition Cllrs have been asked to use FOIs, which in itself is obstructive, and they are not getting replies. Too often, my emails to HRA and Labour leaders are met with either silence of 'process' answers.
I recently asked HRA Deputy Leader, Cllr Gillian Ford, for an outline on how the council will distribute £3m of government money recently given to Havering. Money given to help the most vulnerable families. Cllr Ford simply pointed me to an online note that says the Cabinet will consider a report in less than 1 months time.
There was no update on what the discussions are. The opposition, and scrutiny committees, will be given no time to look at the proposals.
Some people reading this are going to tell me that things weren't any better before. They may not have been, I don't know. But, that doesn't excuse things being poor now.
I entered politics to increase transparency and scrutiny. I event publish my council payslip! (Click HERE to view) The HRA promised to 'bring change' and to be 'for the people'.
All I've seen, since being elected, is a system designed to place obstacles in the way and an HRA administration that hides behind process.
The people of Havering deserve better.
To Ray Morgon and his HRA Party.
If you are going to tell us to use FOIs, instead of being open and upfront with information, at least make sure the system is working!