The new residents forums have perplexed many people in Barnet. The draconian new rules have meant that a number of questions that have been submitted by members of the public have been declined as not meeting the remit of the new rules. Indeed I was subject to one of these refusals for the September forum when I received this response from one of the Governance officers at Barnet Council:
"I confirm receipt of below email. Please note that full Council at its meeting on 17 May 2011 agreed the type of issues to be discussed at Residents Forum meetings as per below in italics. As Issues 3 does not cover public works, I will not be including this on the Issues List".
I heard from a number of other people who had their questions refused so on 19 September I submitted a freedom of information request asking
"For the six residents forums held in June and September 2011 please
could you provide me with the following information:
1 How many questions were submitted by the public.
2 Of the questions submitted, how many were ruled invalid for
failing to meet the new criteria for question submission."
FOI requests are supposed to be answered promptly and within 20 working days as a maximum. Good old Barnet council don't stick to the rules so after some prompting, on 25 October I received a response:
"I can confirm the following:
23 June 2011 – 6 questions and 3 petitions
20 September 2011 – 7 questions and 2 petitions
Finchley and Golders Green
23 June 2011 – 4 questions and 5 petitions
14 September 2011 – 25 questions
23 June 2011 – 5 questions and 4 petitions
12 September 2011 – 17 questions and 1 petition
I can confirm that the Council does not hold information for the second
Now I didn't think I'd asked a particularly difficult question. The governance officers who deal with these forums could have answered these question is a matter of minutes. Why it took so long I cannot understand.
What I find so disturbing is the denial that Barnet Council holds any information on how many questions were refused. Is this incompetence, pedantry for not asking exactly the right question, or is it something more sinister. Is this a Stalinist approach to the facts, denying the existence those that are inconvenient.
I have asked for an internal review so we shall have to see what this turns up but I see this response as yet another example of the council's autocratic, controlling and high handed approach to residents.