Future of Local Gov in Somerset (FLoGiS) - Reports, costs and payments.

Dave Orr made this Freedom of Information request to South Somerset District Council

This request has been closed to new correspondence from the public body. Contact us if you think it ought be re-opened.

The request was refused by South Somerset District Council.

Dear South Somerset District Council (SSDC),

The Leveller publication has recently published an article raising concerns about the FLoGiS project in the light of poor restructuring outcomes in Somerset West & Taunton and South Somerset District Councils (also advised by Ignite):

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"Stuttering ignition

Ignite, a consultancy based in London’s docklands is developing a bit of a track record in the Somerset area. And now we learn they are advising the various Somerset Local Authorities on how to move forward the project to develop a Unitary authority.

We have already reported on the financial problems at the newly-merged Somerset West and Taunton authority (SWAT) whose merger and “transformation” was advised by Ignite.

The result to date has been interesting. Having paid out £5.661m already, a Somerset West & Taunton spokesperson told us that a further £693k is likely to be paid before the redundancy programme is complete. It is quite an achievement to exceed your budget for redundancy.

Worse, we were also told that as of today, SWT has 55 vacancies unfilled. That will require further recruitment costs to bring the staff up to a full complement. Bad luck? Maybe.
Overall a SWAT spokesperson told us that the money paid to Ignite for work on the merger across the years 2017/18, 2018/19 and 2019/20 totalled £1.21m.

South Somerset too

Over at South Somerset District Council (SSDC), again as we reported last month, another transformation project has been underway. Once again Ignite was the consultancy behind the plan. On their website they use SSDC as an example of their work: “The development of the blueprint and the subsequent implementation of the new operating model started in mid 2016 and is currently in the final phase of implementation.” And again, they proudly boast that: “The targeted benefits of a £2.5M reduction in their cost base are on track to be delivered as part of the Medium Term Financial Strategy as planned.”

The statement may be true. SSDC paid a total of just over £499,500 to Ignite for this work.

It is also true that as a result of implementing the plan, SSDC has paid out a lot of money in redundancy. At the same time, SSDC has so many vacancies in the organisation that it is missing performance targets in several key areas. A spokesperson told us, “‘A total of 48 agency staff were employed by SSDC as at the end of April 2019. The majority of these staff were covering vacant posts which were not filled as part of the organisational restructure.” In addition, they confirmed that at the end of April there were four consultants working for them and part of the organisation was having to be temporarily outsourced.

Does the outcome at SSDC sound familiar?

Of course, it is impossible to know at this distance who is to blame. Was it poor implementation or bad planning? Was the implementation led by the consultants or by the in-house teams? We can only comment on the outcome, which to date has not been glorious. Either at SWAT or SSDC.

But given this experience and the not insignificant cost of employing consultants, there are other questions too. Is it wise to use the same consultants for a third project?

Do we want a similar outcome for the unitary project? Are there no local consultancies available with similar skills in the West Country?

We contacted Ignite asking if they would like to comment or respond to this piece but they declined to reply

Copyright The Leveller, Langport, Somerset."
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SSDC is the coordinating authority for the Future of Local Gov in Somerset (FLoGiS) project.

https://www.southsomerset.gov.uk/your-co...

SSDC will hold recorded information on FLoGiS for all Somerset Councils who are all public bodies and fall within the FOI Act.

Q1. Please supply copies of the Governance and oversight arrangements, projects boards, methodology, audit etc.

Q2. Please supply copies of all meeting notes (with agendas, minutes etc) for all FLoGiS meetings.

Q3. Please supply the latest copy of the FLoGiS Risk Log.

Q4. Please supply copies of all option recommendations, progress reports etc whether in final or draft form and any outcomes as to the recommended option?

Q5. Please supply a breakdown of all costs and payments from the inception of FLoGiS to the current date showing:

a) the total payments to date broken down by each supplier/contracted party/consultancy;

b) the total costs of project management and oversight to date etc;

Q6. Please supply information on the funding contributions to FLoGiS by each participating Council to date.

Q7. Please supply the latest estimates for FLoGiS project costs to completion and the date for a likely completion to preferred option[s].

Yours faithfully,

David Orr.

Freedom Of Information, South Somerset District Council

Dear Dave Orr

I acknowledge receipt of your Freedom of Information request 19th August 2019. You will receive a response direct within the statutory timescale.

Kind regards
Maxine Wilson

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Dear Freedom Of Information,

You have not responded within the statutory timescale.

Please respond promptly to remain with the FOI Act.

Yours sincerely,

Dave Orr

Dear Freedom Of Information,

SSDC Contact form today:

My Freedom of Information request here is very overdue:

I tried calling SSDC by phone a number of times but non-one answers and the call is cut off.

I would like the FOI request answered or for someone from the FOI Team in SSDC to call me on my mobile phone (see the contact form).

A continued failure to meet the requirements of the FOI Act will result in a complaint referral to the Information Commissioners Office.

Yours sincerely,

Dave Orr

Dear Freedom Of Information,

Please ensure all replies are returned via whatdotheyknow.com.

If I do not soon receive a date by which this very overdue FOI request will be met then I will move to escalation and complaint.

Yours sincerely,

Dave Orr

To document, here is the direct email received after a follow-up by phone:

----- Forwarded message -----
From: David.M.Orr
To: Freedom Of Information <[email address]>
Sent: Thursday, 10 October 2019, 14:21:07 BST
Subject: Re: Freedom of Information

I know it was received when originally sent as an automated email was generated back.

The FOI Act statutory response time has now been significantly exceeded.

Regards,

David Orr

On 10 Oct 2019 at 13:35, Freedom Of Information <[email address]> wrote:

Good Afternoon David,

I have picked up your message from our customer focus officer this morning.

Firstly I would like to apologise in the delay in responding but I am currently chasing the original email up to see what the status is, I will let you know as soon as I find out.

Many Thanks

Charlotte

Dear Freedom Of Information,

Please post your response to my FOI here as requested by direct email.

Yours sincerely,

Dave Orr

Freedom Of Information, South Somerset District Council

As requested.

 

Many Thanks

Charlotte

 

From: Freedom Of Information
Sent: 17 October 2019 14:01
To: 'David.M.Orr' <[email address]>
Subject: Freedom of Information - 40
Importance: High

 

Dear Mr Orr

 

Please find a response to your recent FOI request. Sorry for the delay in
responding:

 

SSDC is the coordinating authority for the Future of Local Gov in Somerset
(FLoGiS) project.

For clarity this is incorrect. There is no coordinating authority for
FOLGIS and there is no project. There is a discussion that was launched by
the Leader of Somerset County Council in May 2018.

[1]https://www.southsomerset.gov.uk/your-co...

 

SSDC will hold recorded information on FLoGiS for all Somerset Councils
who are all public bodies and fall within the FOI Act.

This is not correct. SSDC is not the coordinating body and has no
responsibility for holding other council’s information.

 

Q1. Please supply copies of the Governance and oversight arrangements,
projects boards, methodology, audit etc.

There is no project and therefore, no governance arrangements, project
boards etc. Discussions have been held through the informal Somerset
Leaders and Chief Executives Group. This group has no status or decision
making powers and operates purely on an informal basis.

 

Q2. Please supply copies of all meeting notes (with agendas, minutes etc)
for all FLoGiS meetings.

There are no formal meetings and therefore no agenda or minutes.

 

Q3. Please supply the latest copy of the FLoGiS Risk Log.

There is no FOLGIS risk log because there is no FOLGIS project.

 

Q4. Please supply copies of all option recommendations, progress reports
etc whether in final or draft form and any outcomes as to the recommended
option?

There are no option recommendations. A research project into potential
options is still in progress and yet to be finalised.

 

Q5. Please supply a breakdown of all costs and payments from the inception
of FLoGiS to the current date showing:

a) the total payments to date broken down by each supplier/contracted
party/consultancy;

 

Consortia Research Project (Collaborate, De Montfort University, Ignite,
Pixel Finance) - £166,000

Max Wide - £9,000

 

b) the total costs of project management and oversight to date etc;

There is no project and therefore no project manager and no project
management costs

 

Q6. Please supply information on the funding contributions to FLoGiS by
each participating Council to date.

All five councils have shared the above cost evenly i.e. it has cost them
£35,000 each.

 

Q7. Please supply the latest estimates for FLoGiS project costs to
completion and the date for a likely completion to preferred option[s].

There is no FOLGIS Project and therefore no estimate for FOLGIS project
costs. The five councils either individual or collectively have not agreed
any preferred option or options – this would be a matter that would be
considered formally by each Council through its democratic decision making
processes. No detailed costs exist for implementing any potential option.

 

 

 

From: David.M.Orr
Sent: 10 October 2019 14:21
To: Freedom Of Information
Subject: ***SPAM***Re: Freedom of Information

 

I know it was received when originally sent as an automated email was
generated back.

 

The FOI Act statutory response time has now been significantly exceeded.

 

Regards,

 

David Orr

show quoted sections

Dear South Somerset District Council,

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

I am writing to request an internal review of South Somerset District Council's (SSDC) handling of my FOI request 'Future of Local Gov in Somerset (FOLGIS) - Reports, costs and payments.'.

Firstly, I regard your much-delayed answers as evasive and disingenuous.

The SSDC comms team back in July referred to your Chief Executive as the FOLGIS "Project Co-ordinator" and he leads a "Project Group" so the frankly absurd attempt to deny that FOLGIS is run as a project is simply not supported by the facts below:

"On Tuesday, 9 July 2019, 09:23:57 BST, Communications <[email address]> wrote:

Mr Orr,

The chief executive of South Somerset District Council has delegated authority to sign off communications on behalf of the project group.

"From: Communications <[email address]>
To: 'David Orr'
Sent: Thursday, 11 July 2019, 10:52:09 BST
Subject: RE: Did the CEO of SSDC renew the mandate with each District Council to speak for all re the Somerset Unitary project after the recent District Council elections?

Mr Orr,

Thank you for your message.

The statement is correct as South Somerset District Council is authorised to agree and distribute joint messages on behalf of the Leaders and Chief Executives regarding joint working.

Alex Parmley’s role was confirmed at a meeting of the joint project group which occurred after the recent district council elections."

I have also spoken with a Senior Councillor in my Locality. S/he says that they have confirmed the existence of the FOLGIS Draft Report which has been produced and SSDC will, therefore, hold a copy.

The existence of the FOLGIS draft report is also confirmed by recent press reports:

https://www.somersetlive.co.uk/news/some...

"A draft report on possible future models of local government in Somerset was produced on the councils' behalf in February - but to date it remains unpublished."

Somerset County Council (SCC) published a paper in May 2018 describing a Working Group which would produce an Outline Business Case.

http://democracy.somerset.gov.uk/documen...

It is clear to me that SSDC must also hold qualifying reports (for my FOI) from the £165K of companies contracted to carry out the work and the Draft Report and/or Outline Business Case which has been publicly referred to.

SSDC is required under the FOI Act to conduct a search for qualifying information (incl documents, reports agendas, minutes, notes, emails etc) to comply with the FOI Act. I do not think that the qualifying information search has properly taken place.

If you confirm that no agendas or minutes or notes (incl daybooks) were taken at the meetings of the FOLGIS Working Group where the Project Co-ordinator is your Chief Executive, then I will move to a formal complaint against SSDC with a view to appealing to the Local Government Ombudsman that the lack of record-keeping is improper and unaccountable (with regard to a significant public spend on a high public interest matter). Otherwise, please supply copies of all agendas, minutes, meeting notes (incl daybooks), emails etc for the FOLGIS Working Group.

I would also like to know how many times the FOLGIS Working Group has met, on what dates and who attended (Councilors, Officers, observers, private contractors etc).

After extensive delays in answering the FOI and given the evasive and disingenuous answers given, I will expect SSDC to meet the FOI Act 20 working days to conduct their Internal review of this FOI.

If at the end of the Internal Review statutory period, SSDC have not responded or (in my view) properly complied with the FOI Act then I will immediately make a Complaint Referral to the Information Commissioners Office.

In those circumstances, my local and senior councillor has undertaken to act as a witness to that ICO Complaint Appeal and corroborate the existence of the FOLGIS Draft Report to show that SDDC have not complied with FOI Act and may, therefore, be guilty of a deliberate "cover-up" by withholding qualifying information that SSDC do indeed hold.

"You may be breaching the Freedom of Information Act if you do any of the following: fail to respond adequately to a request for information; fail to adopt the model publication scheme, or do not publish the correct information; or. deliberately destroy, hide or alter requested information to prevent it being released."

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

Yours faithfully,

Dave Orr

Data Protection Officer, South Somerset District Council

Good afternoon,

 

Your request to undertake a review of response to a Freedom of Information
request has been passed to me.

 

I will investigate and respond in due course

 

Kind regards

 

Cath Temple 
Data Protection Officer

 

 

Dear Data Protection Officer,

The Internal Review is now late under the FOI Act terms.

Failure to complete the Internal Review (with qualifying information disclosures) will result in a complaint referral to the ICO.

Please now comply with the FOI Act.

Yours sincerely,

Dave Orr

Dear Data Protection Officer,

I now have confirmation from Somerset County Council that a FOLGIS report does exist.

This makes your "flippant" first response also inaccurate/dishonest as you denied that any such report existed.

If there is continuing delay without polite explanation, then I will in due course move to a complaint referral to the ICO on the basis that you have not complied with the FOI Act disclosure requirements nor conducted an Internal Review as required under the FOI Act.

Yours sincerely,

Dave Orr

Data Protection Officer, South Somerset District Council

Good afternoon Mr Orr,

 

I have undertaken a review of all the information related to your freedom
of information request.

 

My findings are as follows:

The communication issued on 9^th July 2019, should not have read Project
Co-ordinator or project group, this was not the correct wording, it should
have read the Leaders and Chief Executives joint working group. I have
spoken to the Communications team regarding this and the need to ensure
correct wording in the future.

 

With regard your original questions, these have been answered previously
so I will not duplicate them here.

 

You have mentioned receiving confirmation of a draft report related to
your query, would you be able to share this report so that I may
investigate further please?

 

If you have any further questions please contact
[1][email address]

 

Regards

 

Cath

 

Cath Temple

Data Protection Officer

South Somerset District Council

 

References

Visible links
1. mailto:[email address]

Dear Data Protection Officer,

Somerset County Council have confirmed that a draft report for FOLGIS exists which directly contravenes your FOI response.

SCC have exempted it from disclosure and as a result are now in Internal Review as well.

It is your duty under the FOI Act to search for and disclose qualifying information.

I would respectfully remind you that not disclosing qualifying information held is an offence under the FOI Act.

To complete your Internal Review, please confirm whether you also hold qualifying information of a FOLGIS draft report.

Otherwise, please restate that you do not have any qualifying information and, if denied again, I will proceed with a complaint referral to the ICO.

Yours sincerely,

Dave Orr

Dear Data Protection Officer,

If the Internal Review (already very late and non-compliant with FOI Act requirements) is not complete by Friday, January 10th (to allow for the festive break) then I will move to a formal ICO complaint referral.

On December 10th the Somerset County Council Monitoring Officer responded as follows "In terms of the current position [of FOLGIS], all councils are currently considering potential options included in the draft report."

Under the FOI Act, it is your public and civic duty to confirm that qualifying information is held and then apply an exemption if the disclosure is refused.

South Somerset Council appears to have deliberately denied the existence of a draft report and has clearly failed to comply with the FOI Act compounded by repeated and excessive delays in responding. All of this 2ill be drawn to the attention of the ICO.

It is something of a surprise to see a Liberal Democrat council behaving in this way which damages openness, transparency and public trust.

Yours sincerely,

Dave Orr

Dear Data Protection Officer,

I have been patient since the 5th of December while awaiting an FOI Act compliant Internal Review and for SSDC to continue to deny a draft report for FOLGIS already exists.

Today Somerset County Council have issued a Pes Release stating:

"An independent report setting out the pros, cons and possibilities of various options has been with us since February last year and is now, finally, being published. These options range from the various councils simply working closer together to the creation of a single ‘Unitary’ Authority. All the options have merit and each has the potential to save millions. This link www.onesomerset.org.uk will take you to our dedicated web pages where a copy of the report can be viewed from lunchtime today (Wednesday, 8 Jan)."

This confirms that SSDC's continued denial that a draft FOLGIS report exists is, in fact, untrue.

This is a very serious breach of the FOI Act.

You have until this Friday 10th Jan to respond (as per my last pre-Christmas communication) before I make a complaint referral to the ICO.

Can you also direct me to your Complaints Procedure as I believe that the repeated delays and disingenuous behaviours are indicative of a cultural issue that needs to be addressed, if necessary, via the Local Government Ombudsman?

Yours sincerely,

Dave Orr

Data Protection Officer, South Somerset District Council

1 Attachment

Dear Mr Orr,

Please find attached our complaints procedure as requested.

Here are the details for the Local Government Ombudsman and the ICO:

Local Government Ombudsman
PO Box 4771
Coventry
CV4 OEH
Tel:   0300 061 0614

Information Commissioner's Office
Wycliffe House
Water Lane
Wilmslow
Cheshire
SK9 5AF
Telephone: 0303 123 1113
Fax: 01625 524510

Yours sincerely

Cath Temple

show quoted sections

Dear Data Protection Officer,

I have now written directly to the Leader of your Council to complain about the lack of FOI Act compliance and also to express concerns about the "poor service cultures" of which your last 3 unhelpful responses are very good examples.

You continue to deny the existence of an important public document that was published in Feb'19.

I also queried with the Leader whether SSDC FOI Officers had sufficient training and support for their statutory roles, as the Internal Review was not completed to the standard required under the FOI Act and by the ICO.

Once the Leader has completed her investigations I will then decide whether to make a staged Complaint culminating in an appeal right to the Local Government Ombudsman.

It is now very clear that SSDC has not been honest (on repeated occasions since last August) about the existence of the draft Future of Local Government in Somerset report.

I regard this lack of openness, honesty and transparency as a fundamental breach of the FOI Act and next week I will be making a Complaint Referral to the ICO. There is currently a 3 to 6-month backlog on case progression at the ICO.

It is my view that the letter and spirit of the FOI Act and the Nolan principles have been undermined by SSDC Comms and FOI Team Officer behaviours that appear to be aimed at hiding public information and damaging accountability by avoiding proper disclosure of information of high public interest.

I am a longstanding campaigner for openness and transparency in public services and I am sad to say that the SSDC Officer behaviours, in this case, are the worst I have come across.

The public service culture of the SSDC Officer Corps is an issue I have also raised with your Leader.

Yours sincerely,

Dave Orr

Dear Data Protection Officer,

I have now made a formal complaint referral to the Information Commissioners Office ICO).

The remedies sought conclusion from an extensively documented complaint referral is below.

Remedies sought:

1. If the five Councils (Somerset County Council, Sedgemoor District Council, Somerset West and Taunton District Council, South Somerset District Council and Mendip District Council) are holding strategic meetings without documentation, then they should ALL be admonished and advised that they need to keep agendas and meeting notes, so that the FOI Act can be properly supported through best practice information management.

2. I would like South Somerset District Council strongly admonished for falsely and repeatedly denying the existence of a controversial qualifying options report published in Feb'19. The deliberate "hiding" of this controversial qualifying options report is, to me, a serious attempt to subvert the FOI Act and this damages public trust and accountability. I would like to see a programme of training in the FOI Act given to the relevant FOI Officers and, where Senior Officers have colluded in the hiding this qualifying options report, they should be given "words of caution and guidance".

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

Please note that there is currently a 6-month backlog for the ICO to address complaint referrals.

Yours sincerely,

Dave Orr

Sent: Friday, 7 February 2020, 09:00:12 GMT
Subject: ICO case accepted [Ref. FS50905787]

7 February 2020

Case Reference Number FS50905787

Dear Mr Orr

Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA)
Your information request to South Somerset District Council

Thank you for your correspondence of 27 January 2020 in which you made a complaint about the above public authority’s handling of your request for information.

Your complaint has been accepted as eligible for further consideration and will be allocated to a case officer as soon as possible.

Dear Data Protection Officer,

I have now received from the County Council 20 emails and various attachments that show SSDC has subverted the FOI Act by false and repeated denials that any FOLGIS meeting notes, information and reports existed.

I regard this as a serious offence and the repeated false denials (by the Comms and FOI teams) potentially being illegal actions under the FOI Act.

Your Leader and Chief Executive are listed as attendees and recipients.

I will pass this incontrovertible and damning proof to your Leader and to the ICO Case Officer, calling for strong sanctions against these u acceptable public service behaviours.

It is quite a surprise that a longstanding Liberal Democrat-led Council should behave like this and have such a poor public service culture.

Yours sincerely,

Dave Orr