It having become apparent that my local council, Bradford MDC is systematically defrauding ratepayers of millions of pounds each year, in common with most other councils in the country, we have embarked on a series of Freedom of Information (FOI) questions, to smoke out the full extent of the fraud, with some questions answered and more coming in.
However, this was never going to be that easy, as the fraud goes all the way to the top. It was entirely predictable that the councils would seek to protect themselves. And, in the vanguard of criminality, we find Bradford now refusing, point-blank, to answer the questions put.
Says Neville Birkett in an e-mail to me today - a man who laughingly embraces the title of Freedom of Information Officer - I am now of the opinion that exemption 14. – (1) Section 1 (1) which does not oblige a public authority to comply with a request for information if the request is vexatious applies to your requests.
"I have", he writes, "based this opinion of the context and history of your correspondence which I would characterised as obsessive and of no serious purpose or value as defined within the ICO's guidance notes". Thus, he concludes: "I am therefore issuing a refusal notice against your last four Freedom of Information requests".
For the record, the questions asked are as follows:
1. In respect of the preparation of summonses and liability orders in relation to financial years 2010/11 and 2011/12, please could you itemise separately in respect of each year and document (making four heads in all), the following information.If you are not satisfied with this reply, the egregious Mr Birkett tells me, you may ask for a review of this reply by contacting email@example.com or by writing to freedom of information, Bradford Metropolitan District Council, 4th Floor, Britannia House, Hall Ings, Bradford BD1 1HX.
a. The number of staff directly engaged on the preparation of summonses and liability orders, their job descriptions/designations, salary bands and gross annual employment costs (salaries, pensions, bonuses, national insurance, etc).
b. The number of working hours accrued by each of the members of staff so engaged, as listed in item one, by function or operation (i.e., computer operation, clerical, management, etc), for each document and each year, expended directly and exclusively on the preparation of these documents.
c. Court fees incurred in the preparation or issuance of each document.
d. The cost per year of software acquisition/leasing/licensing (as applicable) attributable specifically and exclusively to the preparation and printing of summonses and liability orders.
e. The total computer time required for each of the documents in each of the years, the type of equipment used and the cost of the computer time attributable specifically and exclusively to sorting data, generating lists, and printing forms.
f. The total cost for each of the documents for each of the years for running the print/folding/insertion equipment (including lease or other charges specifically and exclusively attributable to each print job), and the cumulative total time of print runs for each document and each year, the equipment and the number of units used.
g. Total cost of consumables for each year and each document: paper, ink (where not included above), envelopes and postage (please itemise main expenditure heads).
h. Any other costs not identified above (please itemise) attributable directly and exclusively to the preparation, processing and despatch for each document and each year.
2. What is/are the name(s) of the "authorised officer(s)", the signature(s) of whom is/are appended to the Bradford Magistrates summons for the non payment of council tax in respect of Bradford MDC; what are the normal job description and the qualifications of the authorised person(s), who is the employer; what is the nature of the authorisation, who authorised the said person or persons; when and under what legal basis was that authorisation granted?
3. In respect of the collection of Council Tax, with specific reference to S. 34 of The Council Tax (Administration and Enforcement) Regulations 1992 (as amended), what is the nature and physical form of the complaint made to justice of the peace concerning Council Taxpayers alleged not to have paid the amount which has fallen due, what is the nature and physical form of the justice's assent to the issue of a summons, how is this processed by the Council and how and by whom is the physical form of the summons actually produced and issued?
4. How many commercial bailiff companies are employed/retained by Bradford MDC, the names of the companies, when they were first appointed and what is the duration of any service contract(s) and when were those contracts last renewed, and for what purpose(s) they were appointed? Whether Bradford MDC pays the bailiff companies, or whether the companies pay any fees or other sums - other than the exact sums of the debts recovered - to the council, what form any such payments take, their frequency and value, by company and total for each financial year, and whether they represent a percentage of any sums, by way of fees or debt recovered?
Guess what is next on the agenda? There is, however, nothing to stop other people asking exactly the same questions, of Bradford MDC (at firstname.lastname@example.org) and of their own local authorities.