A few days ago I wrote a rather mocking piece about Cllr Rob Summons’ deep understanding of both the Freedom of Information Act and the obscure subject of copyright law.
It seems I mocked too much, and an abject apology is in order.
You will recall that Cllr Summons turned up at the council meeting on 12 December armed with details of grants paid at 25 Dimond Street – the home of Cllr David Pugh’s phantom “third side elevation” – obtained, he said, by way of a request to the council under the Freedom of Information Act.
This was remarkable because the article on my website that inspired his request was first published on 7 December – a Saturday.
So, the earliest his request could have been validated was on Monday the ninth, and there he was just a couple of days later waving the reply around in the council chamber.
According to Cllr Summons, where I had gone astray in my own attempts to extract information from the council was by asking the wrong questions.
All I had to do was ask for the amount of grant paid, which was “council property” and not therefore subject to the rules surrounding “commercial confidentiality”.
It occurred to me that, as I already knew the percentage rate of grant, if I could discover the amount of grant paid, then someone with my mathematical skills (‘A’ level 1959 vintage), should be able to devise a way of working out the gross value of the work.
So first thing on the morning of Monday 16 December I put in a request for the amount of grant paid in respect of slating at Nos 25 and 29 Dimond Street Pembroke Dock, both of which appeared to fall within Cllr Summons’ helpful definition of freely available information.
This brought forward one of those “out of office” replies from the information officer telling me they were on leave until 18 December,
Concerned that I hadn’t received the customary official acknowledgement, I emailed again on 19 December when another “out of office reply” came back from the same officer telling me they were now on leave to 6 January.
Fortunately, it contained an alternative email address of someone who could be contacted in the case of urgency.
This I did and have now been told that “the programme officers who provide this information are on annual leave over the holidays” and I can expect a substantive reply within the 20 working days allowed by statute, which takes us to 20th January.
Now I know there are conspiracy theorists among my fellow councillors who believe that Cllr Summons was set up by the IPPG leadership in an attempt to knock me off balance.
For this hypothesis to hold water, it would require that an officer or officers had fast-tracked Cllr Summons’ FoI request.
But as the great biologist T H Huxley observed: “The great tragedy of science – the slaying of a beautiful hypothesis by an ugly fact”.
And I would point out to those who see devious plots lurking behind every bush that there are two ugly facts in this case.
First we have the council employees’ code of conduct which provides: “Political neutrality: Employees must serve the Authority as a whole. It follows they must serve all Councillors and not just those from the controlling group, and must ensure that the individual rights of all councillors are respected.”
And if that doesn’t convince the conspiracy theorists, what about this from the members’ code of conduct: “You must not do anything that compromises, or is likely to compromise, the impartiality of those who work for, or on behalf of the authority.”
So, whether we like it or not, we have to face up to the inescapable conclusion that Cllr Summons has superior knowledge of these things.
And, when you think about it, this should come as no surprise.
After all he is a former policeman (traffic) so you’d expect him to know more about the law than the rest of us.