Are members of Isle of Wight Council required to respond to written communications?

Mrs Cook made this Freedom of Information request to Isle of Wight Council

This request has been closed to new correspondence. Contact us if you think it should be reopened.

The request was refused by Isle of Wight Council.

Are members of Isle of Wight Council required to respond to written communications?

In the past I have sent emails to my County Councillor which have never received any reply. I have also written to the Council Leader David Pugh and never received any reply. I have also read accounts online where other Island residents had emailed their County Councillor and the Leader David Pugh an received no reply.

The Councils Constitution states

________________________________________________________

MEMBERS JOB PROFILES

Role

To be an advocate of and for the interests of the constituency, individual electors, community groups and other stakeholders. To represent the interests of those individuals and groups to the Council, and deal with enquiries and representations from constituents.

Duties

1. To effectively represent, individually, and with other representatives of other Electoral Divisions, the interests of the Electoral Division, individual and groups of constituents in the policy formulation and decision making processes of the Council and to other local and national bodies.

2. To work individually and collectively in the interests of the Electoral Division and the Council.

3. To lead and actively encourage community involvement and engagement in consultation in policy formulation and decision making by the Council.

4. To respond to constituents enquiries and representations fairly and impartially.

5. To assist in the above, Members are likely to have an active involvement (including attending meetings where invited) in the local Parish/Town Council and other community groups. Additionally Members may hold surgeries to enable their constituents to have greater access to them and issue newsletters to keep their constituents informed.
_______________________________________________________

"To represent the interests of those individuals and groups to the Council, and deal with enquiries and representations from constituents." and "To respond to constituents enquiries and representations fairly and impartially." appear to me to clearly indicate that County Councillors are required to respond to written communications.In addition the Council publish individual Councillors contact details on you website including: address; email address; telephone number.

The Council have been evasive in giving a straightforward answer as to whether a Councillor has to respond to written communication in the past. Now that you are operating a new 'open and transparent' policy could I have a clear and unambiguous statement on this fundamental issue please.

Could you also supply details of how to make a complaint if a response has not been received despite it being made clear that a response was required.

Shorter, Penny, Isle of Wight Council

1 Attachment

 
Dear Madam – I attach my response to your recent request for information
 
Regards
 
P Shorter
 
Penny Shorter | Paralegal - Social Care Team |  Legal Team |
Isle of Wight Council | County Hall | Newport | Isle of Wight PO30 1UD
Tel: (01983) 821000 | Fax: (01983) 823699 | DX: 56361 NEWPORT (IOW)
Email: [email address] | Web: [1]www.iwight.com
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Mr. Figg left an annotation ()

A straightforward question indeed Mrs Cook, the answer is far from 'Open and Transparent'

Lets publish it directly online as the HTML version didn't work on my browser and people should have direct access to FOI responses like this one:

======================================================

20 August 2013

Dear Sir or Madam

INFORMATION REQUEST CRM REF. iw13/8/16662

Thank you for your information request dated the 12 August 2013.

You made the following request:-

In the past I have sent emails to my County Councillor which have never received any reply. I have also written to the Council Leader David Pugh and never received any reply. I have also read accounts online where other Island residents had emailed their County Councillor and the Leader David Pugh and received no reply.

The Council have been evasive in giving a straightforward answer as to whether a Councillor has to respond to written communication in the past. Now that you are operating a new 'open and transparent' policy could I have a clear and unambiguous statement on this fundamental issue please.

Could you also supply details of how to make a complaint if a response has not been received despite it being made clear that a response was required.

The Freedom of Information Act gives a right of access to any information held by the council and covers all recorded information ‘held’ by public authorities. This can include information which is in a published format – such as leaflets or reports or meeting minutes. The Act does not require a local authority to provide statements on issues. There is no existing statement in relation to responding to written communication that can be supplied to you under FOI.

Councillors are not covered by the Council wide policy affecting officers of providing responses within a certain period of time. The reason for this is that how Councillors engage with their communities is a matter for them alone. Councillors are required to follow a Code of Conduct and this is available from this link:

http://www.iwight.com/Council/how-it-wor....

Also available from this link are the details of how to complain against any members if you feel that they have breached the Code of Conduct.

With regard to your mention of Mr David Pugh, I confirm that Mr Pugh is no longer Leader or a Councillor with this authority and therefore, the authority cannot investigate a complaint against him.

The current Leader is Councillor Ian Stephens. I attach a link to the contact details for Councillor Stephens and all other current Councillors:-

http://www.iwight.com/councillor/azCounc...

If you have any complaints in respect of your information request, please write to the Corporate Information Unit at the above address or complete the on-line appeals form that can be found at www.iwight.com/information. If your complaint is not resolved to your complete satisfaction, you have the ultimate right, once you have exhausted the internal appeals process, to appeal to the Information Commissioner.

Yours sincerely

Penny Shorter
Departmental Information Guardian
For Deputy Director of Resources (Corporate Governance)

=====================================================

The Information Commissioner has in the past required the authority to answer straightforward questions put in a request if that is in the public interest. As we are told that the IW council are now 'Open and Transparent' this question is a very good test of that.

They have stated "Councillors are not covered by the Council wide policy affecting officers of providing responses within a certain period of time."

The period of time taken to supply a response wasn't the question as I understood it, the question was:

Do councillor's have to respond to written communications if it is made clear that a response was required?

And you have been given an unclear and ambiguous response to that.

Is this an example of the new council's definition of open and transparent?

Dear Isle of Wight Council,

Please pass this on to the person who conducts Freedom of Information reviews.

I am writing to request an internal review of Isle of Wight Council's handling of my FOI request 'Are members of Isle of Wight Council required to respond to written communications?'.

Your response doesn't make the situation any clearer to me. I have quoted from the Councils Constitution in my request and you have supplied a link to a list of reasons why a person can complain about a councillor which is based on the Council's Constitution.

The situation is not clear therefore I have sought clarification. You publish Councillors Council domain email addresses on your website for the purpose of contacting them. I assume you supply computer equipment and an Internet connection at the tax payers expense in order that they can respond to emails yet you will not state whether or not they are required by your Constitution to reply if they receive a reasonable communication which makes it clear that a response from them is required.

I am not interested in how long they might take to respond or whether they might refer the communication to an unelected officer to respond on there behalf, I've asked a simple, straightforward, reasonable and fundamental question which you are once again avoiding answering.

Please supply the information I have requested.

A full history of my FOI request and all correspondence is available on the Internet at this address: https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/a...

Yours faithfully,

Mrs Cook

Miss Attrill left an annotation ()

They don't want you to know.

They produce a Constitution which is ambiguously worded so that they can then interpret it as they please when a complaint is received. Ruled over behind closed doors by the same Officer's whose eligibility criteria for vulnerable adults were ruled by a High Court judge as unlawful and should be quashed by the court http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-ham...

But they don't want your rights of representation in regard to the quality of service you are entitled to from elected Councillors published in clear language in the public domain.

People are sick of Councillors ignoring their letters and emails as has been the culture under this Council up to now. Under the new Independent Council we are promised openness and transparency along with the Bell Principles. A Framework For Change, The Seven Principles Of Public Life, blah blah blah.

Its all just hot air and more of the same if we aren't even allowed to know if we are entitled to receive a response from our elected representatives.

Freedom of Information, Isle of Wight Council

Deputy Director of Resources (Corporate Governance) &
Monitoring Officer Davina Fiore

From:
Karen Johnson
Information Access Officer
Legal Services, Floor 1 County Hall, NEWPORT
Isle of Wight.
PO30 1UD
Tel (01983) 821000
Fax (01983) 823257
Email: [email address]
DX 56361 Newport (Isle of Wight)
Web: www.iwight.com

21 August 2013

Mrs Cook
Via email at:
[FOI #172576 email]

Dear Mrs Cook,

Re: Information Request CRM Ref iw13/8/16662 Appeal Ref iw13/8/35688

Thank you for your recent email relating to your above referenced request for information.

The council considers any notification of dissatisfaction with respect to replies given to requests for information, under the Freedom of Information Act, as a request for an internal review.

In accordance with the council’s Access to Information Policy, and in line with the Code of Practice under Section 45 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000, the council will undertake an independent internal review of your request.

The council will endeavour to complete the review and send a full reply within 20 working days.

On completion of the appeal, if you remain dissatisfied with the way the council has dealt with the matter, you may appeal to the Information Commissioners Office, Wycliffe House, Water Lane, Wilmslow, Cheshire, SK9 5AF. www.ico.gov.uk.

In the meantime, if I can be of any further assistance to you, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Yours sincerely

Karen Johnson | Information Access Officer | Corporate Information Unit |  Legal Services | Isle of Wight Council | County Hall | Newport | Isle of Wight | PO30 1UD Tel: (01983) 821000 | Email: [email address] | Web: www.iwight.com

This email may contain personal information.  Please do not forward this email unless you are satisfied that to do so would not constitute a breach of the Data Protection Act. If you are unsure please contact the author.

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Dear Freedom of Information,

I am in complete agreement with the sentiments expressed by Mr Figg on his similar request to my own.
https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/a...

I am not willing to waste the Island's Council Tax payers sparse resources in pursuing this request with this authority or ultimately the Information Commissioner as you have clearly demonstrated that you are willing to waste unlimited resources demonstrating that you are able to do as you please in refusing to confirm what people have already discovered in the past that Isle of Wight Councillors don't need to respond to the written communications of their constituents as your definition of treating citizens with respect does not include that as a requirement.

As a consequence I am withdrawing this request for a review and marking this FOI request as refused because I will not take part in this charade of you misusing FOI legislation to deny information rather than offer the public access to it in order to cover up the lack of basic rights which citizens of normal Councils are able to take for granted.

It is plain that little has changed at the Isle of Wight Council, despite the Independents proud boasts, as the problems were not limited the previous removed Members but included the Officers who remain.

Yours sincerely,

Mrs Cook

Mr. Figg left an annotation ()

Good call Mrs Cook. We need to ask ourselves whether in such times of austerity the council could possibly justify wasting meagre resources on such a flimsy defence if their position was that councillors do have a duty to respond. I feel their insistence on refusing to answer the question illustrates their position as clearly as any direct response would.

Mrs Cook left an annotation ()

So if they don't have to respond what's the point in contacting them? Or voting for them in the first place as they don't represent you.