Total Annual Figures for Compromise Agreements, etc.

Paul Cardin made this Freedom of Information request to West Lancashire 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 successful.

Dear West Lancashire District Council,

Please supply Annual totals for the following:

As far as records go back, the annual figures for the total
of current employees / ex-employees (including teaching staff) of the Council who have signed compromise agreements directly related to the resolving of dispute(s) / grievance(s) / internal and external investigation(s) / whistleblowing incident(s).

In addition to this, annual figures for the number of current employees / ex-employees (including teaching staff) who have agreed, following the matter being raised and made conditional as part of a compromise agreement drawn up by the body acting as the Council's legal team, to sign and forgo their right to approach the council in the future with Freedom of Information and/or DPA Subject Access requests under the relevant Acts.

Please provide the figures in the following format e.g. 2006 - 2; 2007 - 4; 2008 - 1; 2010 - 6; etc.

Please note that I do not seek or require any personal information such as names and addresses – only the total figures for each subject area.

Yours faithfully,

Paul Cardin

Greggor, Gill,

Dear Mr Cardin

FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT 2000 - REQUEST FOR INFORMATION

I am writing in respect of your recent enquiry for information held by
the Council under the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act.

Please find below the information you requested:

Unfortunately we do not hold the information in the format that you have
requested but our records that go back to 2006 reveal 10 such matters.

None of the Compromise Agreements contain the clause referred to.

You should note that the information may contain copyright material, the
copyright may belong to the council or a third party, and if you want to
re-use or copy the information e.g. commercially or to pass on to
others, in most cases you will need to apply for a copyright licence.

If you have any queries concerning the information provided, please do
not hesitate to contact me. If you are still unhappy with the response
you are entitled to pursue any dissatisfaction through the Council's
Complaints Procedure by writing to Ms K Webber, Assistant Chief
Executive at [email address].

Regards

Gillian Greggor

HR Business Partner (External)
Lancashire County Council & West Lancashire Borough Council Human
Resources Partnership

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Dear Gill,

Thanks very much for your response. I appreciate your position
however this query is identical to one which has been sent to ALL
English councils. To date, since January 1st 2011, I have had 181
(one hundred and eighty one) full and detailed positive responses.
These councils did not have any difficulty in responding to my request.

I am currently involved in research in this area, with the aim of viewing trends and movements nationally. In order to make the task somewhat more manageable, can I make the following reductions in scope?

Please can you exclude COT3 agreements, also compromise agreements drawn up in the following circumstances:

1. Purely redundancy situations
2. Purely PILON (payment in lieu of notice) situations
3. Equal pay claims
4. TUPE situations
5. Purely voluntary severance situations

Also, to assist you further, I will narrow the time period down to between the years 2005 to 2010 i.e. the last six years.

Given that a total of 181 councils have not found any difficulty, I imagine that they may be taking a different approach to locating the information.

Can I suggest that you query your Accounts Department? I ask this
because when employees leave in the circumstances I am describing,
they are offered a financial incentive to end their working
contracts. Your Accounts department is required to keep a detailed
electronic record of all such payments. As they should be keeping
an adequate data storage / retrieval system, it will not be too
arduous a task for them to provide Annual total figures for
compromise agreements drawn up in these circumstances.

You could also put in a call to your Legal Department who may keep
a similar searchable database.

I hope the above information assists you. I don't believe that the
possession of an inadequate data storage / retrieval system
warrants the use of an exclusion under the FOI Act and look forward
to receiving your response,

Yours sincerely,

Paul Cardin

Greggor, Gill,

Dear Mr Cardin

Thank you for your response in respect of your recent enquiry for
information held by the Council under the provisions of the Freedom of
Information Act, unfortunately I am unable to provide any more detail
than that previously sent to you.

Under the Freedom of Information Act the Council has the right to refuse
an applicant information held if an exemption applies. On this occasion
the Authority believes that the cost of complying with your request
would exceed the "appropriate limit" of fees that can be charged in
relation to the disbursement and prescribed costs involved in dealing
with requests under the Freedom of Information Act.

The information detailed below is from 01 January 2006 to 31 March 2010
and has been provided by the West Lancashire Borough Council Legal
Department.

To comply with your request in full will involve a significant amount of
time spent interrogating various manual filing systems to obtain the
required information. I have contacted our Finance Department and while
details of any payments made are held on the financials system they are
not readily identifiable. Members of the HR team who would be aware of
the details of these left at the end of March 2010. Consequently it
would require a massive amount of work to check through details to
identify those that have been paid. The number of hours needed to
provide this information would therefore greatly exceed the 18 hour
limit for freedom of information requests. Under Section 12 of the
Freedom of Information Act the Council is not obliged to comply with
this part of your request The Authority has therefore decided to refuse
your request.

If you wish to object to the decision in the first instance you are
entitled to pursue any dissatisfaction through the Council's Complaints
Procedure by writing to the Ms Kim Webber, Assistant Chief Executive.
Should you remain dissatisfied following this you can appeal against the
decision by contacting the Information Commissioner, Wycliffe House,
Water Lane, Wilmslow, SK9 5AF.

Any future correspondence you may have with the Council in relation to
this matter should be sent care of Sylvia Smith the Freedom of
Information Officer.

Regards,

Gill Greggor

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Dear West Lancashire District Council,

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

I am writing to request an internal review of West Lancashire District Council's handling of my FOI request 'Total Annual Figures for Compromise Agreements, etc.'.

I've reduced the scope of this query in good faith. I've also provided some context information which listed a large number of positive responses from English Councils, the overwhelming majority of whom found no problem with providing the information. My position is that the public interest in releasing this information outweighs the public interest in not releasing it - a view which appears to be endorsed by hundreds of your LGA colleagues. I'm not sure that the ongoing upkeep of inadequate or cumbersome data storage and retrieval systems should be allowed to prevent information being accessed and 'win the day'.

I am aware that more public funds will be used, but given the response, there is no alternative but to ask you to undertake an internal review.

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

Yours faithfully,

Paul Cardin

Webber, Kim,

Dear Mr. Cardin,

I am writing following your e-mail of the 15th February 2011 in which you
request a review of the handling of your Freedom of Information request -
total annual figures for compromise agreements etc.

I have undertaken a review and considered all possible sources of the
information you request and having done so have concluded that to provide
you with the information requested on the 9th January, as amended by your
e-mail of the 5th February, would exceed the appropriate limit as set by
the Freedom of Information Regulations. In the light of my review I do
not feel I can meet your request. However, I can confirm that we are not
aware at this point in time of any compromise agreements which contain a
clause foregoing the right to approach the Council in the future with
Freedom of Information and/or DPA subject access requests.

I hope this satisfies your complaint. However, if you are dissatisfied
with our response in the first instance you are entitled to pursue any
dissatisfaction through the Council's Complaints Procedure by writing to
W.J. Taylor, Chief Executive. Should you remain dissatisfied you can
appeal against the decision by contacting the Information Commissioner,
Wycliffe House, Water Lane, Wilmslow, SK9 5AF.

Phone: 0303 123 1113
Website: www.ico.gov.uk

Yours sincerely,

Kim Webber, BSc., MSc.
Director Designate (Assistant Chief Executive)
West Lancashire Borough Council

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Paul Cardin left an annotation ()

West Lancashire District Council went to internal review, before deciding against supplying the information.

Please link here to read about the further aspects of this request:

www.easyvirtualassistance.co.uk/page4.html

...including councils who have attempted to prevent individuals from exercising their statutory FOI / DP querying rights.

There is a growing trend for the use of compromise agreements, not just in the area of disputes or whistleblowing, but also in less controversial areas of redundancy, severance or equal pay claims. Some councils have yet to answer this query - and to date, 65 working days have elapsed.

Smith, Sylvia,

1 Attachment

Dear Mr Cardin

Please see attached response to the Information Commissioners Office in
respect of your complaint. The information you requested is contained in
the document.

If you have any further queries please do not hesitate to contact me.

Yours sincerely

Sylvia

<<Information CommissionerPaul Cardin.doc>>

Sylvia Smith
Snr Admin & Electoral Services Officer
West Lancashire Borough Council

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Paul Cardin left an annotation ()

Here’s a piece of legal opinion from Senior Counsel Hugh Tomlinson QC, which appears to make more likely the prospect of public sector employers opting for Freedom of Information and Data Protection “gagging clauses” within compromise agreements; and thereby aiming to remove persons’ statutory rights to make data and information requests.

It has been an effective reputation management tactic, and a way of concealing the historical malpractice engaged in by employers when targetting whistleblowers or getting rid of people who’ve lodged grievances. The ruse has been deployed in the past by two councils; Cheshire West & Chester, and Brent.

The ICO are powerless to prevent it as the HT opinion implies that contract law takes precedence over a person’s statutory rights – which it appears can be surrendered. The ICO could only act if the recipient of any “ban” were to breach it and make an FoI or DP request of the relevant data controller – which is unlikely to occur because there’s always a “club over the head” of the signatory to the compromise agreement i.e. the threat of any monetary pay off being clawed back through the courts.

http://tinyurl.com/bu9vynx