Pulling teeth down at City Hall yet again

If you’re fed up with not getting your Freedom of Information requests answered by Westminster Council there maybe another little known way you can obtain the information you want from the Council. Each year the Council have a 20 working day window of opportunity for any resident of Westminster or his/her representative to inspect and make copies of the Councils accounts. This includes all books, deeds, contracts, bills, vouchers and receipts. The sources embodying the rights of each elector are contained within the Audit Commission Act 1998 and the Accounts and Audit Regulations 2011.

Westminster Councils 20 day window started today, 10th August to 7th September 2011. Saturdays, Sundays and Bank Holidays are all excluded. (http://www.westminster.gov.uk/services/councilgovernmentanddemocracy/councils/counciltaxandfinance/accounts/ ).

In short the Audit Commission Act 1998 and the Accounts & Audit Regulations 2011 maintain that any elector interested in doing so may inspect and make copies of for example the recent and expensive parking enforcement contract. A document of that type is often refused under a simple FOI request on the grounds of costs. But the Audit Commission Act 1998 can in some circumstance have more teeth than a Freedom of Information request.

Audit Commission Act 1998 (http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1998/18/contents )

14 Inspection of statements of accounts and auditors’ reports.

(1)A local government elector for the area of a body subject to audit, other than a health service body, may—

(a)inspect and make copies of any statement of accounts prepared by the body pursuant to regulations under section 27;

(b)inspect and make copies of any report, other than an immediate report, made to the body by an auditor; and

(c)require copies of any such statement or report to be delivered to him on payment of a reasonable sum for each copy.

(2)A document which a person is entitled to inspect under this section may be inspected by him at all reasonable times and without payment.

(3)A person who has the custody of any such document and—

(a)obstructs a person in the exercise of a right under this section to inspect or make copies of the document, or

(b)refuses to give copies of the document to a person entitled under this section to obtain them, is guilty of an offence and liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 3 on the standard scale.

(4)References in this section to copies of a document include references to copies of any part of it.

15 Inspection of documents and questions at audit.

(1)At each audit under this Act, other than an audit of accounts of a health service body, any persons interested may—

(a)inspect the accounts to be audited and all books, deeds, contracts, bills, vouchers and receipts relating to them, and

(b)make copies of all or any part of the accounts and those other documents.

As Nutsville already has inspected Westminster City Council accounts last year we have some experience of how things are likely to go with Westminster Council. Last year one obstruction after another was put in front of us, first one claiming we needed to submit a Freedom of Information Act 2000 request. It seems this almost secret Act of Parliament is absolutely abhorrent to Westminster Councils way of dishing out information. Nutsville is amazed at how many of Councils officers are willing to risk earning a criminal record by flouting the law, some of them must be very highly paid.

After our visit last year and now over a year later Westminster Council is still dragging their feet producing the information we requested. But this year we gave them 10 days advance warning of what we wanted to see. We were dismayed that lessons had not been learnt from our last visit as we were ushered into a glass room on the 14 floor with a table of hurriedly photocopied documents representing only a fraction of what we had asked to see.

There was just one sad looking photocopy of a document which the Council were trying to pass off as a contract. This document was not dated, signed or sealed, it didn’t even mention the company name of who the contract was with.

Westminster Council has a very funny way of being open and transparent.

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3 Comments

Pat PendingAugust 11th, 2011 at 9:14 pm

Keep it coming Nuts more power to you.

MGAugust 12th, 2011 at 4:15 pm

Awesome!!!

MartinAugust 15th, 2011 at 9:04 am

How do WCC determine if you are a Resident, or a Reident’s “representative”?

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