Freedom of information and SBC

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Scottish Borders Council’s Freedom of Information (FoI) response to public wellbeing and safety enquiries has recently been described as evidence of dodgy public orders of obfuscation (PoO).

A number of well-researched Southern articles and reports on council meetings on wellbeing and safety have been the key focus of public attention during the course of this year, with subsequent SBC assurances of an annual performance monitoring panel (PMP) report before Christmas 2011, including key statistics on staff absences due to work-related stress, harassment and bullying, reasons for dismissals, and health and safety incidents.

The following selected SBC FoI wellbeing and safety meritocratic results are therefore deemed very relevant for public scrutiny and attention during the latter part of this year:

1. Does the workplace stress policy endorse and use the HSE stress management standards?

SBC response: The current policy does not directly relate to the HSE stress management standards, but the latter were referred to in the SBC staff survey. Other standards and tools are used in the council to ensure it meets its obligations. It is planned that the replacement policy will include reference to and use of the standards and the supporting HSE tools.

Conclusion: There is no SBC implementation of the recommended HSE stress management standards, nor legal compliance to the standards to evidence any stress-risk assessments in the six areas relating to demands, support, relationships, control, organisational roles and change management. However, there is strong anecdotal evidence of PoO.

2. Can your employer confirm how many stress-risk assessments have been carried out for occupational groups?

SBC response: In the past year no specific occupational groups have been the subject of stress assessments.

Conclusion: SBC has not introduced occupational group prevention and control measures based on work-related, stress-risk assessments and therefore provide only anecdotal evidence of PoO.

3. Please provide copies of the LAE1 form which the council is required to return to the Health and Safety Executive annually, for the past five available years.

SBC response: I have checked with our wellbeing and safety department which has confirmed that Scottish Borders Council does not produce the LAE1 form. As the council does not hold this information it is therefore exempt under Section 17 of the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act (FoISA).

Conclusion: SBC does not produce annual health and safety inspection and enforcement activity reports, and considers itself exempt from both public accountability and Health and Safety Executive scrutiny, and therefore the above-mentioned PoO is considered strong anecdotal evidence.

4. Please provide as much detail as possible on all staff who have been dismissed from your service within the last five years. Ideally, the information will include date of dismissal, reason and department worked for. Please note I am not requesting the names of those dismissed, or any other personal details.

SBC response: Unfortunately, in our HR database this does not have a field for reason for dismissal and am therefore unable to provide this information. As we do not hold the reason for dismissal, this is exempt under Section 17 of FoISA.

5. I would like to know how many staff have faced disciplinary action or been dismissed because of their sickness records.

SBC response: As the council does not hold this information it is therefore exempt under Section 17 of FoISA.

Conclusion: The Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act states on the subject of health, safety and the environment that information is exempt information only if its disclosure under this act would, or would be likely to, endanger the physical or mental health or the safety of an individual.

The FoI responses to the questions on wellbeing and safety are publicly available online for the relevant subjects, namely workplace stress, health and safety, staff sickness and dismissed staff: http://www.scotborders.gov.uk/directory/59/freedom_of_information_requests.

In conclusion, the advice to SBC is to stop pooh-poohing around with FoI public requests and develop a more pragmatic approach to problems that resist the temptation to reason continually from first principles. If SBC is to become more dynamic it must begin to face up to the problem of defensiveness and must start genuinely contributing towards freedom of information and valuing restorative justice and public service rights as something to be welcomed, rather than something to be curtailed.

Gordon Branston

Ettrickbridge