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:

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