Yesterday at Cabinet, Cllr Lesley Whybrow (Green) & Cllr Tim Prater (Lib Dem) both raised the issue around the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) of the council not answering one in three phone calls it receives from residents of the district over the last fifteen months.
In 2018/19, the number of unanswered calls was one in four and in 2019/20 the figure fell to one in ten, and was the same in 2020/21, according to the council’s own publicly available KPI data. For the council to fall to it’s lowest level ever – one in three or 33% – for not responding to calls from residents, demonstrates the council is failing residents yet again, even though we’ve had the highest council tax of all councils in Kent for the last nineteen years.
The person responsible for this portfolio is the Leader of Folkestone & Hythe District Council, Cllr David Monk.
One of the things that none of the Cllrs at Cabinet picked up on, was the failure to met the KPI around responding to Freedom Of Information (FoI), Environmental Information Requests (EiR) and Subject Access Requests (SARs). These are the responsibility of Cllr Ray Field (Ind) (pictured) – he who betrayed Princes Parade.
Every year since 2017/18, the FoI team has failed to meet its KPIs.
In 2018/19 the KPI report says:
The environment surrounding EIR and FOI continues to be challenging, with the Council receiving high volumes of requests that are frequently technically complex. The push to proactively publish materials has continued to make good ground and this is reflected in the steadily improving response rate. Ongoing challenges include delays in information being provided for consideration, complex cases requiring extended consideration of exemptions, and in a minority of cases, administrative oversights. Continued efforts are being made to address all of these factors in an effort to continue to improve departmental performance.
In 2019/20, one in three FoI/Eirs were not responded to within the time limits set out in law. As for the SARs this was four out of every ten were not responded to within the times limits set by law.
Again the council came up with yet another excuse, this time the report states:
The Information Governance Team has faced ongoing challenges due to staff illness. More resource has been put in place. It is expected that there will be an upturn in performance statistics in 2020/21 as training is completed and the team’s professional capabilities are enhanced. But alas that did not happen.
In 2020/21, the FoI team failed to meet one in four of any FoI/EiR request within the statutory time limits. And as for responses to SARs, that got worse not better as they failed to respond to 6 out of every ten within the time limits.
Again there were further excuses as the report states:
Performance remains under target in the quarter due cross training being undertaken between a Freedom of Information officer and Recovery officer on their opposite work functions to help build skills resilience within the team… Further discussions on resourcing are being undertaken to address the situation to help improve future performance.
In the latest KPI report for 2021/22; which went before Cabinet on Wednesday 20 July, the responses to FoI/EiRs got slightly worse. It was just more than one in four response which did not get responded to within the statutory time limits.
And as for Subject Access Requests (SARs), this fell to three out of every four not being responded to within the statutory time limits.
Again more excuses within the report regarding FoI/EiRs which states:
Further cross training of staff continues to be undertaken to provide greater resilience to this area. In addition, further resource has now been secured for the Case Management team in the form of an additional full time case officer who has started within the team in April 2022.
One thing we must not forget, is the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) undertook an informal audit on our council in 2019/20, and found it wanting. Even with that, things have still not improved.
We are committing to delivering more systemic enforcement action against public authorities that clearly and consistently fail to meet their FOI obligations… we will be increasingly looking to take further action against public authorities that continue to demonstrate poor FOI performance, including those: demonstrating a wilful or negligent attitude to FOI compliance; those significantly or repeatedly failing to follow the good proactive guidance we have published; or those that have failed to follow previous advice or comply with lower-level enforcement action
The first place they might begin is Folkestone & Hythe District Council, as it has failed to meet its FoI – EiR and SAR KPIs and statutory obligations for the last five financial years.
We know that FHDC Cllrs, and Officers, have used private emails to communicate with each other, and others outside the building. They have also used private Whatsapp groups and similar technology, Signal & Telegraph, to frustrate access to information which requesters of FoIs and EiRs are legally entitled.
It is through personally owned devices by officers and Cllrs that access to the private accounts in question has happened. But Dr Priest is hardly going to ask Cllr Monk, or any other Cllr, or Officer, to hand over their mobile so it can checked to discover what if anything they have been sharing, regarding council business with other people, or amongst themselves.
We suspect there was, and is an absence of appropriate security controls by Officers and Cllrs concerning the use of private correspondence channels. This is because the use of private correspondence channels creates an unnecessary level of risk. This is because there are insufficient controls in place to ensure that personal data contained in the communications is processed securely and in accordance with GDPR, and the DPA 2018.
How Dr Priest – the Chief Exec of the Council – puts and end to all this failure, and to the financial and contract irregularities within the council; which she and Cllr Monk lead, is unknown. We are not assured things will improve, as time after time, we, and you, are so often informed, things will get better. It won’t under these elected Cllrs, as for these officers – no comment.
It must not be forgotten FoI/EiRs and SARs are a right, a statutory legal right. But given this council’s behaviour towards its residents, we suspect they’ll continue abusing these rights, as they have for the last five years. And don’t bother calling them about your request, as your”ll be left hanging on the telephone.
The Shepway Vox Team
Journalism for the People NOT the Powerful