Saturday, 17 September 2011

Open Government

“The consultation is open, there is an opportunity for people to suggest alternatives. Nothing has been said anywhere at any time that people cannot challenge or provide feedback on issues relating to the back office.”
Oxfordshire County  Council spokesperson in Oxford Mail story on libraries 03 Aug 2011

Be robust - consultation/ involvement must be undertaken in an open and honest way. 
Oxfordshire County  Council guidance, six key principles of consultation

"If people don't know what you're doing, they don't know what you're doing wrong." 
Sir Humphrey Appleby

As part of the consultation OCC have already released data for the salaries for each individual library. Quite a few of the rural libraries because of their size have one staff member.

 Further to this they have released via FOI the full list of libraries and the numbers of staff working at each.

For the back office we have no such breakdown of data, all we have is Management & Professional and service support with the numbers.

I put in a FOI request asking for the salary data, job title and brief description for the above areas of staff spending.  They released the data on the last possible day and  they did send me what I requested.

The next day it took a strange turn when I received this email: 

“On the 12th September we sent a response to your FOI request reference 3323 in connection with the staffing structure for the Library Service.  This was sent in error and may contain some personal data in relation to our staff.  Please could you disregard that response, and a definitive response will be sent to you tomorrow. 
You should not circulate or use the previous response, or any of the salary data contained in it.  Electronic and hard copies should be destroyed. 
I apologise for the inconvience and confirm that a final response will be sent to you as soon as possible.”

I replied immediately and actually rang and left the officer a message, I had already sent the data round to the other friends groups and informed the person all I could do was forward on this email and the rest is up to them.

Then a couple of days later I got this:

“The salary information provided in the spreadsheet is the actual salary of the staff concerned, and this information is deemed to be personal information.  It is normal practice to provide only the scale that a grade attracts, i.e. the minimum and maximum applicable to the grade.  Whilst we don't specifically name the staff, it is our belief that in some cases it would be possible to find the names. 
I will send you the amended response as soon as I have sent you this e-mail. 
Thank you for your understanding and cooperation on this.”

So what they are saying is, it’s fine to release information that allows identification of low paid front line staff, yet for high paid management and back office the salary has to be within grades to protect the staff.

Obviously there has been a lot of back and forth and I have yet to receive a satisfactory response as to the descrepency. This is the guidance from the information commissioner (thanks to @foimonkey) on releasing salaries:

“There is no one rule which can be applied in every case. However, the following guidelines may be useful.

• Salary scales should usually be published as a matter of routine.

• Disclosure should only be to the extent necessary to fulfil a legitimate public interest. This may involve narrowing down advertised scales, for example to the nearest £5000. Only in exceptional circumstances is disclosure of exact pay likely to be justified.

• More senior staff who are responsible for major policy and financial initiatives can expect greater scrutiny of their pay than more junior employees. It will nearly always be unfair to disclose the exact salaries of junior employees.

• There could be factors that weigh in favour of greater disclosure, such as legitimate concerns about corruption or mismanagement, or situations in which senior staff set their own or others’ pay.

• Specific individuals’ concerns should be considered when determining whether the disclosure is justified.”

If it isn’t unfair in their opinion to release exact salaries of junior staff, how can it be unfair in their opinion to not release the senior staff salaries when the ICO stipulates that those on higher salary should expect greater scrutiny? There is also government policy on releasing salaries of staff on over 50K.

Whatever the process is for FOI in Oxfordshire, the first release passed the tests they have in place. Then I suspect someone who wasn’t happy about it intervened against the public interest and in their own interest to try and keep their salary out of the public domain. This is while OCC is happy for library branch staff to have to their salaries on display for the world to see.

OCC have insisted at every stage that they will only deal with individual library groups, if they blame the volume of requests for data I have no sympathy. If the consultation was open and transparent they would have done the following at the very start.

·         Gave a full explanation (with supporting data)  on what different approaches to savings were considered and discounted
·         Be completely open with their data, spending across the library services. The internal recharges, their PLSS, plus and other user satisfaction data. Also their position on how they compare to all other library services around the UK on cipfa (they do have all this)
·         Release of the galaxy data on usage of residents of other libraries (this didn’t occur to them)

We wouldn’t be in the position where they are probably breaking the information commissioner rules on identifying staff salaries or if they are not doing that then breaking FOI rules trying to cover their own high paid managers.

Libraries who have only one staff member (and there are a few) know what their librarians are being paid.

It has been a battle on every step of the consultation to get OCC to release data. 

p.s 22 of the 54.2 salaries in the first release were higher than the grades. I would hope this is because on has full package costs verses the salary bands. I have asked for clarification....

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