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Sep 04 2014

Harrow Council: Salus populi suprema lex? Obviously not…

harrow_council_logoHarrow Council seem to have forgotten that they’re there to serve the public, yet again. We queried the Council’s Head of Paid Service over a couple of things, namely the council’s dismal failure to provide free school meals to all entitled children in the borough, and their ignorance around public notices concerning road closures. Clearly, we’d struck a nerve, as this is the only response we got back:

Afternoon Paul

Thanks for your recent queries to officers on school meals and highways in Harrow.

From the wording of your emails – for example reference to the communications team –  it appears that you are seeking this detail for publication on iHarrow. As you know, the communications team’s remit is to help accredited journalists working for recognised news outlets. With no disrespect intended, blogs fall outside this definition, so therefore the council cannot offer you the facilities it offers to journalists.

As a Harrow resident, you are of course perfectly welcome to ask questions about council activities and performance. We invite all residents to do that through the contact page on our website, http://www.harrow.gov.uk/contactinformation. Your query will then be tracked and responded to in the normal way. There is in addition the FOI route.  The council will therefore respond to your questions in due course.

Regards

Fergus

The lunacy of that suggestion is that we already tried to go down the FOI route a year ago – and the council decided that we’d asked too many questions, and refused to respond.

So, what specifically upset them this time? Well, firstly, we pointed out that a whole bunch of Traffic Orders – setting out road closures for repair – perhaps didn’t comply with legislation aimed at preventing serious disruption to residents. We asked:

Some of the TRO’s (eg: #6 parts a – d) give less than the 21 days notice that I believe is required. Can you confirm that you need not give 21 days notice, please?

Another example was around the free school meals, which all infant school children are entitled to:

Can you tell me how many schools in the borough are unable to provide free school meals (either hot OR cold) as directed by Nick Clegg? Can you also advise what arrangements you have made, or intend to make, to repay that allocated £2.30/day back to parents so that they can provide the meals that schools should be providing?

The council, having been caught with its pants around its ankles, has clearly decided to act precisely how it pleases, ignoring legislation at a whim. What’s particularly galling though is that this is a fairly recent change: say what you like about Susan Hall, but she was more than willing to provide answers, to be interviewed, and to get to the bottom of things when the council messed up. We’d like to think that this turn of events is unrelated to Labour taking control of the council, but as Dave has not been willing to be interviewed and have questions asked of him, it’s probably best that readers draw their own conclusions.

Salus populi suprema lex? Clearly not.

 

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4 comments

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  1. GrahamL

    Dissent is not tolerated in the People’s Republic of Harrow!

  2. red mirror

    the truth never fears investigation so what lurks in the shadows of the civic centre must have something to hide when a light is switched on cockroaches run for the dark recesses of walls i think that may well be what we are seeing.

  3. PraxisReform

    “the communications team’s remit is to help accredited journalists working for recognised news outlets.”

    The internet has bought about a revolution in news media, and nowadays I’d say that iHarrow.com is easily on comparison with Harrow’s Observer, but with the added advantage that Paul doesn’t clutter by bin with a property supplement that’s bigger than the actual news section.

    Thus, being located in Harrow and with a long history of focussing on local matters, I’d say that in respect of Harrow local news and events, iHarrow.com is certainly a recognised news outlet.

    Then, regarding accreditation, many different organizations offer press passes and accreditation letters. For example: http://www.demotix.com/help-frequently-asked-questions/press-pass-accreditation

    But then, we all know who is writing and publishing the stories on this website, so why make Paul jump through hoops, simply to be able to obtain basic information, without the time and hassle of submitting FOIA requests?

    http://www.commentarymagazine.com/2013/07/01/should-the-government-decide-who-is-a-legitimate-journalist/

  4. PraxisReform

    Just recently, the department for Communities and Local Government introduced a “right to report”: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/press-freedom-boosted-by-new-right-to-report

    I’ll quote Eric Pickles from that page:
    “Local democracy needs local journalists and bloggers to report and scrutinise the work of their council, and increasingly, people read their news via digital media. The new ‘right to report’ goes hand in hand with our work to stop unfair state competition from municipal newspapers – together defending the independent free press”

    So, Harrow Council’s decision is most definitely not in the spirit of this new right…

    I wonder if a quick letter to Mr Pickles outlining this shoddy behaviour might deliver a sharp boot up the arse to the head of public relations at Harrow Council?

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