Saturday, 29 May 2010

No Freedom of Information in Wales

WAG keeps information from us - but aren't they meant to be serving the people? [Image by Tim Sanders]

The Welsh Assembly Government has been refusing to answer Freedom of Information requests related to the badger killings in Wales (note - even their press release about it has now been made secret and the public are no longer 'authorised to view this page'!). We had been informed of this from other sources, and had decided to try our own FOI requests on 3rd May 2010. Below are the requests made and the responses given by the WAG team that organises wildlife slaughters (they only replied on 28th May). It should be noted that WAG altered the wording and removed detail from our original requests when they acknowledged our requests on 7th May. We corrected their 'error', but in their final response they only responded to the edited questions they had created, not our original requests or corrections to their errors (sent to them on 8th May).

1. Request: We asked for a list of the people who will be licenced to kill badgers, along their relevant training and qualifications. Unless this is made available anyone could trespass on land with a gun and claim that they are killing badgers on WAG business - a landowner or person questioning the gun-carrier won't have any way of confirming whether or not the person is licenced and trained, or whether it is an illegal poacher or criminal, since the WAG staff wear balaclavas so can't be identified by their ID card; and their ID cards have no names on so it is impossible to check if they are official. Anyone can fake a letter saying they are licenced when no-one knows what an official letter looks like. This is a matter of citizen safety, and refusing to make an authorised list of people available puts the public at risk. We have covered this Catch 22 situation already.

Their response: they decided that they would make this information exempt from the Freedom of Information Act.

Their specific reasons were:
"Section 38 (1)(a) and (b) state that the disclosure of this information would endanger the physical or mental health of any individual, or endanger the safety of any individual."

"All contractors working in the pilot area will have authorisation on them. This will not contain their name but landowners will be able to contact a helpline to verify that the contractors are genuine."
However there is no way of identifying a nameless man in a balaclava! What do you say? "Well, he looks like a man in a balaclava, please can you confirm whether that is your WAG killer or just a rapist." Bear in mind that if you take the cards away to your phone you will be arrested. What about the safety of people who can now have unidentified, unidentifiable masked men - and later armed men too - turning up on their land at any time, pretending to be doing WAG's work? Don't landowners deserve protection too?

They even hide the names of anyone writing to you - all correspondance was signed 'TB Team,
Office of the Chief Veterinary Officer'. When did it become okay for civil servants to sidestep accountability in this way?
Section 40 (1) states that this information is exempt from disclosure as it constitutes personal data of which the applicant is the data subject. This is an absolute exemption that is not subject to the test of Substantial harm or public interest.
Mmm. We were the applicant. But we were NOT the data subject. So this is absolute meaningless tosh.

2. Request: We asked for a list of the personal interests of the various WAG staff and ministers who have been involved in this badger cull. The public has a right to see where there are vested interests. For example, the Rural Affairs Minister Elin Jones has links to animal farming and therefore stands to benefit herself and her family from these proposals she is putting in place as Minister. We wanted the name and role of each person, along with details of their farming vested interests (and any other vested interests relevant to the badger cull).

Their response: The decided not to answer this, even though many of the staff involved in these decisions have links to animal farming that benefit themselves. They mentioned just four staff (including Elin Jones) and said none had vested interests "in the pilot area". Note that was not what we asked - we asked who had vested interests linked to farming, the area was irrelevant. WAG did not want to answer that so made up their own question to answer.

3. Request: We asked for the full evidence base for the decision to kill badgers in Wales. All the reports and research that were considered, including links to where the reports/research can be checked. WAG had a Public Consultation on their website in July 09 on this subject, so the results of that consultation are also part of the evidence base that need to be included, along with where it is possible to read the results of the consultation. The internationally validated ISG study, based on 10 years of scientific research and costing over 12,000 badger lives, concluded unequivocally that 'badger culling has no meaningful part to play in TB control in Britain'. Therefore it is important that the public knows what vital evidence the Welsh Assembly Government found which invalidated the conclusions of the largest-ever study in this area, leading to a decision to undertake a badger killing at massive cost to the tax payer.

Their response: They refused to list their evidence base. They just said it was 'on their web pages' and included a link that did not go to any such information.

They also used the same response with regards to the consultation. However nowhere is there a summary of how many people were for the cull, and how many were against. So in what way did WAG use this information? As far as can be seen from their web pages they did a consultation, then did absolutely nothing with that data apart from upload it. What is the point of doing a consultation if you aren't going to act based on what those consulted say? It is a perfect example of a wasteful and cynical exercise followed by the WAG bureaucrats just to tick the box saying 'yes, we consulted people'.

Secondly, as you browse through the responses it is clear that most 'pro-cull' letters were identical - they had been distributed by some third party, rather than being individually-written consultations. And the pro-cull responses from the Farmer's Union of Wales ( are listed MORE THAN TEN TIMES! These again were just standard letters.

4. Request: We asked for a breakdown of the full cost so far (and any other foreseen costs) for undertaking the badger cull in Wales, broken down into as much detail as possible. Examples of things to include (not exhaustive):
  • Costs of dealing with all correspondence and administration on this issue
  • Court cases
  • Costs for reports and research
  • Licensing and training for the badger killers
  • Travel and subsistence costs for staff and ministers working on these issues.
This would need to include the number of hours spent on things by different staff and the costs of their salary per hour, so if Elin Jones has spent 12 hours reading reports, 4 hours giving speeches, 12 hours attending meetings and so on then the costs of her 28 hours of salary would need to be included to get a correct figure of the cost to the tax payer. Obviously WAG would not be going ahead with such a plan if there had not been a full costing, so this information should already be available.

Their response: Generally "We do not hold this specific information." Then a very selective inclusion of a few costs, with massive gaps, in an attempt to hide how much this is really costing the taxpayer.

So WAG either refuses to answer the FOIs or says it can't. They are absolutely useless, and are hiding information. Elsewhere it had been quoted that the cost per badger killed will be £6,000 it is no wonder WAG want to conceal all this from us at a time when public services are being cut and people are losing their jobs. At least faceless WAG bureaucrats and badger killers don't have to worry - they always look after their own.

No comments: