A little festive cheer from Nottingham

December 16, 2011 5:43 PM

Christmas greetings from the Midlands, where long-suffering Nottingham taxpayers have been brought a little bit of festive cheer. Nottingham City Council has opted for more frugal celebrations after last year’s splurge on a £5,000 Christmas tree for its headquarters building.

According to the Nottingham Post the 2010 tree was rented for just 35 days, meaning it cost nearly £143 per day. Now where would Nottingham City Council, which likes to tell us it is too cash-strapped to publish its spending over £500 like every other council in the country, get that kind of money to burn?

At the time, council leader Jon Collins rushed to tell his Twitter followers that the tree was sponsored and so did not cost Nottingham taxpayers a penny. But a recent Freedom of Information request revealed that only £550 of sponsorship was received. The council’s FOI response claimed that this was used to buy presents for needy children, but the council later told the Nottingham Post that this was incorrect and the £550 was actually set against the cost of the tree (meaning that Nottingham taxpayers footed the bill for the remaining £4,450).

Confused? Probably not as confused as NCC’s Information Governance staff at the misinformation apparently fed to them by their council colleagues. If the council’s long-winded sign-off procedure for FOIs – inadvertently revealed by a council worker earlier this year to cause delays to issuing responses – isn’t picking up fundamental errors like this, what is it doing?

Nevertheless, thank goodness for Freedom of Information or cases like this might never be exposed in the first place. Not to mention that the leader of Nottingham City Council might never find out what his council is actually spending. Except Mr Collins doesn’t like FOI much. A few months ago he tweeted that FOIs cost the council £500,000 per year, and that ‘you could save a lot of services with that’.

Is that figure any more accurate than his Christmas tree tweet? Not if the council’s accounts are anything to go by. In 2010/11 the council’s Information Governance department spent £236,000, actually coming in under budget by nearly £67,000. And remember that FOI is only one of Information Governance’s responsibilities, along with data protection, access to personal data and licences for public sector information. Of course, this figure does not include the cost to other departments of gathering data for FOI requests. But it is hard to believe that that cost amounts to more than the entire budget of the Information Governance department.

After all the negative publicity surrounding the infamous giant tree in the local press, Nottingham City Council has decided to do without a similar tree this year. A small victory for Nottingham taxpayers brought about by a simple FOI request. Now how much more money could be saved if the council actually answered all the FOI requests it receives, rather than using every means possible to block and delay them?Christmas greetings from the Midlands, where long-suffering Nottingham taxpayers have been brought a little bit of festive cheer. Nottingham City Council has opted for more frugal celebrations after last year’s splurge on a £5,000 Christmas tree for its headquarters building.

According to the Nottingham Post the 2010 tree was rented for just 35 days, meaning it cost nearly £143 per day. Now where would Nottingham City Council, which likes to tell us it is too cash-strapped to publish its spending over £500 like every other council in the country, get that kind of money to burn?

At the time, council leader Jon Collins rushed to tell his Twitter followers that the tree was sponsored and so did not cost Nottingham taxpayers a penny. But a recent Freedom of Information request revealed that only £550 of sponsorship was received. The council’s FOI response claimed that this was used to buy presents for needy children, but the council later told the Nottingham Post that this was incorrect and the £550 was actually set against the cost of the tree (meaning that Nottingham taxpayers footed the bill for the remaining £4,450).

Confused? Probably not as confused as NCC’s Information Governance staff at the misinformation apparently fed to them by their council colleagues. If the council’s long-winded sign-off procedure for FOIs – inadvertently revealed by a council worker earlier this year to cause delays to issuing responses – isn’t picking up fundamental errors like this, what is it doing?

Nevertheless, thank goodness for Freedom of Information or cases like this might never be exposed in the first place. Not to mention that the leader of Nottingham City Council might never find out what his council is actually spending. Except Mr Collins doesn’t like FOI much. A few months ago he tweeted that FOIs cost the council £500,000 per year, and that ‘you could save a lot of services with that’.

Is that figure any more accurate than his Christmas tree tweet? Not if the council’s accounts are anything to go by. In 2010/11 the council’s Information Governance department spent £236,000, actually coming in under budget by nearly £67,000. And remember that FOI is only one of Information Governance’s responsibilities, along with data protection, access to personal data and licences for public sector information. Of course, this figure does not include the cost to other departments of gathering data for FOI requests. But it is hard to believe that that cost amounts to more than the entire budget of the Information Governance department.

After all the negative publicity surrounding the infamous giant tree in the local press, Nottingham City Council has decided to do without a similar tree this year. A small victory for Nottingham taxpayers brought about by a simple FOI request. Now how much more money could be saved if the council actually answered all the FOI requests it receives, rather than using every means possible to block and delay them?

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