Posted on January 18th, 2012 1 comment
If I were to describe my love for the Freedom of Information Act, it would be the love you might have for a cruel, but intoxicating mistress (not that I have one I hasten to add).
At times everything goes swimmingly and you can’t believe your luck that the prize nincompoop Tony Blair and his pals agreed to bring it in. FoI and I are the best of pals, sharing picnics in summer meadows.
But at other times it seems to conspire against you, sometimes standing in your way, or more normally working you up into a rage with an erratic series of minor inconveniences. At these moments FoI deletes you as a friend from her Facebook page.
I’m going through one of those rough sessions, and it is not the Act itself that is annoying me but the inconsistency in the way it is used. I shall try to explain.
Every year I send off a FoI request to all the police forces asking how many of their officers were suspended on full pay at the start of the year. It is a straightforward question, which when I compile all the results, makes a reasonable story in the papers, normally with “Gardening Leave Bobbies Costing Taxpayers £millions” somewhere in the headline or intro.
But each year one force always kicks up rough, normally because a senior officer is suspended and they don’t want to tell me.
Clearly I will appeal this case all the way. Last year I ducked out of a similar fight with a police force when I asked how many officers had been off for the entire year with stress. On that occasion I thought the health element in the question would trump my inquiry. In this situation I think I have the public interest on my side.
If I ever had the misfortune to be burgled what profession do you think the criminals would assume I have? My guess would be some sort of failed chef as we seem to have every celebrity cook book published in the last 15 years. Despite having thousands of recipes from top chefs on our bookshelves and dotted around the kitchen I’m afraid the peak of my culinary powers is still tuna pasta bake (although it is nice).
Trying to mix business with pleasure I occasionally do a trawl of celebrity restaurants by asking for the food inspection reports carried out by local councils on their establishments. This can sometimes yield a good story when rat dropping are found, or the pate has gone off.
My latest request was for details of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s eateries in the south-west. I asked for the actual reports and all I got was a link to the Scores on the Doors website. It means I will have to appeal it, wasting more time and money. In the computer age we now live in I find it surprising that these reports are not routinely posted on-line, so as well as seeing a restaurants score, we can see the rationale for the decision.
This is what I asked for:
Please could you provide me with a copy of all food safety reports concerning the establishments listed below which were conducted on or after 1.1.09.
River Cottage Axminster Canteen and Deli, Trinity Street, Axminster
River Cottage, Parm Farm, Trinity Hill Road, Axminster, EX13 8TB.
And this is what I got back…..
Dear Mr Davis,
Thank you for your request for information. Please find the response to your query below.
This information is made publicly available via the National Food Hygiene Rating Scheme website http://ratings.food.gov.uk/
This site has been designed to give the public information about whether premises comply with food hygiene requirements without disclosing any detail which could be commercially compromising or sensitive.
I trust this information is helpful to you.
If you are not satisfied with the way we have responded to your request, please fill in our online complaint form at www.eastdevon.gov.uk/making_a_complaint or write to the Monitoring Officer, EDDC, Knowle, Sidmouth, EX10 8HL.
Another appeal I fear.