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Archive for May 7th, 2013

Hole.
Digging.
Stop.

Rearrange those words and you get Tower Hamlets Council.

After being embarrassed by our ruling councillors’ use of taxis, the council is now using the Freedom of Information Act to prevent further full disclosures.

But as it’s Tower Hamlets, they’ve even managed to cock up the cover up.

A few weeks ago, the Tories submitted a request for details of all cab journeys booked by Mayor Lutfur Rahman, his councillors and his advisers between July 2012 and January just gone.

The final response was sent to Tory leader Peter Golds last week. It said:

The cab firm used for the bookings below was Com.Cabs. The journeys taken from July 2012 to 31st January 2013 are set out below.

Information provided in this response excludes a number of journeys (13) which are currently under dispute with the taxi firm.

The address details on a number of journeys are also provided by postcode only due to concerns regarding Health and Safety, and Section 38 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 is applied.

This email acts as a refusal notice under the FOI Act in respect of this data.

Ah, that old Health and Safety chestnut.

Firstly, anyone familiar with the FoI Act will spot how inept this reply is. Section 38 is a qualified exemption and can only be used once it has been subject to a “public interest test” that weighs the pros and cons of disclosure/redaction. No details of this test have been provided, so it will be interesting to see how they justify the redactions.

Anyway, let’s look at the final reply.

Yet again, Cllr Rabina Khan, the cabinet member for regeneration who is paid £23,000 a year for her council duties and who complained loudly about being exposed last time round in March, is the most prolific cab user; many of them are between E1 and E14.

But what on earth are those addresses deemed so sensitive they jeopardise the health and safety of our precious councillors?

Er, well, “E14” in most of the cases is the town hall in Mulberry Place.

I’m not sure whose health and safety the council is trying to protect by keeping their presence at the HQ, but it surely can’t be theirs. Maybe the regime is now so toxic that the council’s overworked FoI department is worried about people knowing they work in the same building.

But how do we know “E14” is Mulberry Place?

Well, just a few days before it published that redacted information, officers uploaded the original, uncensored data onto the council’s own website.

Here are the details, so compare and contrast (I’ve redacted the precise location of councillors’ homes):

Those marked with my asterisk on the right of the pages are the ones in dispute. They include an alleged £32 trip by Cllr Rania Khan (the culture spokeswoman) from Mulberry Place to Victoria Park for the Olympics Opening Ceremony celebrations on July 27. So much for the council’s exhortations to avoid the roads during that time…

Another dispute concerns a £64 fare allegedly booked by Rabina Khan on September 21 from her house in Whitechapel to the Albert Jacob House council office one mile away in Roman Road. It included 30 minutes of waiting time. No wonder it’s being disputed.

However, one good piece of good news: no taxis at all were booked in December and January. Which just happened to coincide with the beginning of questions about their use….which just goes to show that scrutiny and transparency does work.

Cllr Peter Golds has complained to council boss Stephen Halsey about all this. He wants to know why the information was redacted so heavily…and whether there was any political interference.

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