Thursday, 17 June 2010

One Man's View of One Society

I have been getting a lot of tweets from @One_Society and in the main I agree with what they are trying to achieve - a more equal society.  I have however expressed some reservations about the idea of fixed pay ratio that would for example limit the maximum pay to 10 times the London Living Wage.  I have now started getting replies defending this policy.  I won't be replying in Twitter some arguments can't be properly made in 140 characters so I reply here.

  1. I support the minimum wage and I think it should be raised.  The minimum wage stops exploitation an recognises the dignity of human labour.  We don't need a maximum wage in order to stop exploitation.
  2. The factor of ten seems to have been plucked out of thin air - why not say the highest paid should not earn more than five times the lowest? or perhaps twenty times? If there is a case for ten no-one has made it yet.
  3. If such a rule was brought in lots of people would find ways around it e.g. an office could outsource its cleaning to an agency then make the cleaners who use to have a full time job redundant then the cleaners would not be employees and would not count in the ratio.
  4. You could try to avoid this by saying that every agent, every service provider and every supplier was included in the ratio but collecting the data would be a nightmare and what could be done about foreign suppliers?
  5. Cutting the salaries for the highest paid employees may well reduce the total wage bill meaning the owners of the business make even more profit - in many cases the owners will be far richer than the employees so the proposal may not narrow the gap between rich and poor.
  6. aspiration should not be limited
  7. The super rich don't get their money from salaries many of them don't need to work. A lot of their money comes from inheritance, rents on land and property and returns on investments.

Finally, we have already invented a fair and practical way to increase equality without limiting aspiration it is called progressive taxation and we should use it more. One Society should in my opinion spend its time campaigning against the VAT rise (rich and poor alike pay VAT at same rate) and for increases in taxes on inherited wealth and large land owners. One Society should also be pushing the Government hard on measures to reduce tax evasion.

All that said I commend One Society for caring about these issues and for getting more people (me included) involved in this debate.

Sunday, 6 June 2010

Email to ICO re House of Commons Commission

Dear Sirs
I am writing to complain about the House of Commons Commission's failure to answer my request for environmental information:

The House of Commons Commission have stated that:

"For the avoidance of doubt the House of Commons Commission is not a public authority within the meaning of the Environmental Information regulations."

I believe the House of Commons Commission is a public authority by virtue of regulation 2(2)(c) ("any other body or other person, that carries out functions of public administration"). I note the following facts in support of my argument:

(1) "The House of Commons Commission is the overall supervisory body of the House of Commons Administration."

(2) The House of Commons is part of the United Kingdom legislature and is itself a public body which is publicly funded.

(3) "Its [the House of Commons Commission's] responsibilities include:
  • appointing staff of the House
  • preparing and laying before the House the Estimates for the House of Commons Service
  • allocating functions to House departments
  • keeping staff pay and conditions broadly in line with those of the Civil Service.
The Commission was established by the House of Commons (Administration) Act 1978."

(4) I consider the House of Commons Commission's functions to be public because they relate the pay and conditions of public officials and the work of publicly funded House departments in support of a key part of UK legislature.

(5) I consider the House of Commons Commission's functions to be administrative because of its supervisory role in relation to the House of Commons Administration and its appointment of public officials but also because the House of Commons Commission was established by the House of Commons (Administration) Act 1978 ["An Act to make further provision for the administration of the House of Commons."]

I believe I have presented a concise, referenced and persuasive argument in my email above and therefore I urge to issue a Decision Notice which makes clear that the House of Commons Commission is a public authority and as such must comply with the Environmental Information Regulations 2004.



Saturday, 5 June 2010

ACAS now claim not to be subject to FOI

From the archives we can see that on 12 November 2008 the ACAS website included the ACAS Publication Scheme this document stated that:

"The Acas publication scheme is drawn up under Section 19 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (opens in a new window)."

Section 19 of the Act states that "It shall be the duty of every public authority to adopt and maintain a scheme" - it would appear that ACAS considered itself to be a public authority for the purposes of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 at the time the publication scheme was published (especially given the reference to Section 19 of the Act).

In November 2008 the ACAS website also included the following: "If you would like to request information from Acas under the Freedom of Information Act, write to us at:"

As late as February 2010 ACAS advised a requester of his right to Appeal to the Information Commissioner.

It appears that by 29 March 2010 they changed their mind:

"On a strict reading of the provisions of the FoIA, Acas is not a 'public authority' and as a consequence any information which Acas holds is not susceptible to FoIA disclosure. However, as a mainly publicly funded body, Acas seeks generally to act as if it were subject to the FoIA and to comply with obligations on public authorities subject to the Act, as long as to do so would not breach any reasonable expectations of confidentiality individuals and organisations with whom Acas deals in its dispute resolution and other work might have, or where the release of information would be prejudicial to the conduct of public affairs, or where it was obtained in confidence."

response 29 March 2010

This is especially confusing as the Information Commissioner has issued a decision notice (FS50086170) in which a complaint against ACAS was upheld - the Commissioner has no power to issue decision notices against bodies not subject to the Act.  Further more the ICO specifically considered whether or nor ACAS is a public authority in this decision notice:

"Given the uncertainty as to whether or not ACAS was in fact covered by the Act, the Commissioner made an enquiry of the Department for Constitutional Affairs (DCA, now the Ministry of Justice (MOJ)).Having consulted with the Department for Trade and Industry (DTI), DCA confirmed in an email to the Commissioner that ACAS was covered by the Act by virtue of its relationship with the Department of Trade and Industry (now Department for Business Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR)).The Commissioner subsequently confirmed this in writing to ACAS on 19 January 2007."


Saturday, 29 May 2010

UK's Freedom of Information Officers are invited to join closed regional groups

"We can now operate regional closed user groups.  These are local groups where people contribute with regard to local matters.  You will not see a group unless you are a member of one.  The main benefits include confidentiality, NAIM is not subject to FOI, a reduction in inbox content, an archive of issues etc etc."

"If you are not a member then click the join us link on the left. Registration is always easier when using a business e-mail address and public service addresses such as,, .nhs etc. Where personal e-mail addresses are provided we will usually require confirmation of your reasons for joining. Acceptable categories do not include casual interest or non related information management functions." 

[NAIM stands for National Association for Information Management]

It is clear they are targeting public sector workers who are also 'information managers'.

Saturday, 22 May 2010

Lord McNally on Freedom of Information

"My Lords, does not the Minister feel thoroughly ashamed that a Government who came to power committed to freedom of information and ending the culture of secrecy in Whitehall cannot even provide a list of the times and dates when the Prime Minister saw the most powerful media magnate in the world?"

Source: Theyworkforyou

"My Lords, does the Minister agree that a fee structure that charged exorbitant fees for freedom of information would in fact be the freedom to dine at the Ritz?"

Source: Theyworkforyou

"I have the pleasure of moving this amendment on behalf of my noble friends Lord Goodhart and Lord Lester. It would replace the unlimited period for disclosing information in the public interest with a 20-day limit. We strongly believe in the amendment."

Source: Theyworkforyou

"perhaps it is something that the CBI and the private sector will have to take on board--that doing business with the public sector, which for many companies is very profitable indeed and very attractive, carries with it certain freedom of information responsibilities."

Source: Theyworkforyou

"the crux of debate today is on Clause 34 of the Bill, "Prejudice to effective conduct of public affairs". Where we part from the Government is that they still believe that the effective conduct of public affairs requires too much secrecy. We believe that effective conduct of public affairs comes from accountability and transparency. Ministers may deny it; but a profound change has taken place in the Government's attitude to freedom of information since taking office."

"There was a good example of that last weekend when it was reported that an apparent tiff between Sir Anthony Eden and Churchill about the timing of Churchill's retirement had been kept secret for 50 years. It seems extraordinary that that should be so. A number of the embargos on the workings of government, the security services and royalty belong to a different age."

Source: Theyworkforyou

another from: Theyworkforyou

Friday, 7 May 2010

Freedom of Information in a hung parliament

OK, so the economy is the big issue in this election and FOI isn't and probably never will be but it does matter as FOI can arm the public information about public services, public spending and decision making.

Right now the full result of the election are not known but we do know that no one party has an overall majority. I am optimistic about the opportunities that a hung parliament presents for achieving better FOI laws an greater transparency.

Minority Government means majority non-government
In general Governments have more to lose from increased transparency and opposition parties have more to gain. A minority Government might struggle to resist changes to the law to increase transparency if a number of other parties supported the changes.

Transparency as part of a deal
A party such as the Liberal Democrats could insist on changes to the law to increase transparency as a part of a much larger deal. This of course assumes that agreement can be reached on the major issues such as the economy and health. The Liberal Democrats would like to see the 'ministerial veto' scrapped.

On individual bills before Parliament we could see amendments to build in transparency e.g. bills which create new public bodies could be amended to make the newly created bodies subject to the Freedom of Information Act 2000.

Conservatives as the single largest party

The Conservative support a number of improvements to Freedom of Information for example they favour the publication of the COINS database.

"A Conservative government will increase the range of publically funded bodies that are
subject to scrutiny using Section 5 orders under the Freedom of Information Act. ... We will extend the Freedom of Information Act to these organisations within weeks of the General Election."

The organisations that the Conservatives would like to make subject to FOI include Network Rail, Northern Rock,The Carbon Trust, The Energy Saving Trust, the NHS Confederation (in relation to activities in receipt of public funds), the Local Government Association and
Traffic Penalty Tribunals. (Big Ideas for real change in politics)

Addtofoi has been campaigning for these bodies and many others to be made subject to FOI for some time and will continue to do so.