I submitted a Freedom of Information request on 22nd October, which the Council is required to respond to within 20 working days. When 32 working days had elapsed without response, apart from the standard next day acknowledgement, I was starting to suspect that this was a deliberate strategy to deny me the information I was seeking. I therefore submitted a complaint on 8th December about the matter. To cover myself, I sent a simpler FOI request on 11th December, seeking a subset of the previous, in case the Council was going to wait until the last moment to tell me I had asked for too much information (or am I being cynical?). However, I have not even had an acknowledgement of this second request (although I wrote again to the council asking if there was an acknowledgement to come) and don't know if the council is going to treat it as the previous one. I have therefore, on 20th December, sent a second complaint, about the failure to acknowledge.
I am well aware that the many parents who complained both at Stage 1 & Stage 2 of the Council Complaints procedure regarding the Medway test received uniformly unsatisfactory responses, and some have subsequently taken their complaints off to the Local Government Ombudsman (see above). In this case, my next step is the Information Commissioner's Office, but what a waste of everyone's time, when all I need is an answer to my questions. I am not a Medway resident, but parents who complained about the Medway Test to local Councillors or their MP have also received a brush off with superficial responses. Can anyone advise me if there is a simpler way to secure my information without going through what is a tiresome process. I know, because I had similar problems a few years ago with other FOI requests, and finished up complaining to the Council about the failure of the Complaints Officer to act. On that occasion I decided I had better things to do when in retrospect I should have pushed on, as I will on this occasion.
On the positive side, I find that normally I get an excellent service from the education admissions department and the Department that co-ordinates FOI, who are most helpful, so I can only conclude that there are other reasons for the current obstructiveness by Medway Council (motto - Helping You!).
After a delay of 23 days beyond the required deadline, and 14 days after filing a formal complaint about the lack of response, Medway Council has deigned to contact me. What a coincidence that that it happedn on this date. However, apparently, my request fails because: it contains Information that is likely to inhibit the free and frank provision of advice or the free and frank exchange of views for the purposes of deliberation; Third party personal data; and Confidentiality. There are actually ways to provide most of the information requested without breaching the second and third aspects of these, and there is great public concern about the quality of provision of advice, which should surely be in the public domain.
For example - the one document I did receive was that issued to Medway Test Review Panels, to explain the circumstances of the problems at the Medway Test Centres. The first two sentences of this are:
- Some of the signs directing families to the registration area were not clearly displayed and therefore parents were uncertain of exactly where on the site they needed to be.
- This meant that a high volume of children and parents arrived at the sports hall later than the scheduled registration time.
This is frankly rubbish and has been thoroughly demonstrated as such by many parental testimonies. Parents knew where the sports hall was by seeing the long queues that went much of the way round the building which had been built up before the registration desks were opened. Parents certainly had the intelligence to work out that they joined the back of the queue! If this is the quality of information being served up to the Review Panels, it is surely in the public interest to understand how this level of misinformation could be disseminated so long after the original incidents. I could go on, and shall do so in another place.