Ever enlightening FoIA responses

Tracy Hannigan's picture
 0
I have finally gotten around to updating the PACS website with the flurry of Freedom of Information Act Responses we have received recently.

Some highlights of interest:

The first comments of interest were found within the refusal we received from the DfE for copies of correspondence between Rivendale and the DfE. The first bits of the refusal have been seen before, about flow of free and frank information, blah blah. But the two last reasons for refusal include these revealing gems:

* Furthermore, releasing this correspondence may create an expectation that correspondence relating to other projects would also be released, and this could deter future applicants from submitting proposals for fear of intrusive enquiries and unwelcome questioning. Such a disincentive to potential applicants would have a negative impact on the Free Schools programme as a whole.

* Finally, releasing the requested correspondence may disrupt the continued development of the Rivendale Free School project by prompting continued scrutiny, disadvantaging those children that might reasonably expect to start at the Rivendale Free School in September 2012.

The statements stand on their own - they just don't want to release it. They seem to arrogantly think that any criticism or response to such criticism or question will automatically less quality and less opportunity for children's education. So they are now refusing to release this. However, in the context of a series of emails between the DfE and Hammersmith and Fulham Council, released by the Council under the Act, the DfE is commenting about releasing correspondence to a requester (effectively asking the Council if its OK by them to release the correspondence that includes exchanges with the Council). I don't know who that requester was - it was not us - so I don't know for sure but it does sound like the DfE released some early on, but is now feeling a bit more guarded.

You can see the fuller response and links to other correspondence sent in that particular response on our H&F FoIA response page .

Also received recently was a set of correspondence about the planning process for the site Rivendale had been proposing. You can find links to some of the documents at the bottom of the H&F FoIA page, Response Eleven. For those who are not familiar, the PCT building that was under consideration is bordered by and backs immediately onto residential properties, and the proposed roof playground would be overlooking people's gardens and at the level of people's bedrooms. (And the site was likely to be used for out of hours programs as well, as the Project proposer runs a business doing exactly that with schools). What is highlighted in this series of emails is how the Council had been urging from the outset that Capita and Rivendale work on consulting with the local community and in particular the very immediate neighbours to the site before even submitting the Lawful Development Certificate. When we got wind of the proposal, our community began contacting the Council to ask about this - and their response to Capita was clearly one of deep concern. They had no information on any kind of consultation that had been done and were trying to get this either from Capita or from Rivendale - but it was not forthcoming. The truth of the matter is that most people in the area did not know about the initial consultation meeting until the day before it was held, and this includes people adjacent to the proposed site.

What this clearly continues to illustrate to me is the danger of a system which promotes so much 'independence' from Local Authority accountability in every way -- from planning and siting of schools to all of the accountability issues raised across the Local Schools Network site. Even this heavily supportive Council was unable to get a response in a timely way to the issues it raised - it is easy to imagine that a less supportive Council could be left even further in the dark.
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