Thursday, July 25, 2013

Freedom of information? That's 39.3 hours of hard labour.

Local government gets a bad press. People have a tendency to think of councils as bureaucratic and full of jobsworths. While I'm sure the impression isn't entirely true, the response I received from a London Borough to a recent Freedom of Information request only served to perpetuate the perception.

I won't go into all the details. Essentially though, the information I want does exist, but it's in 183 different files. No one has ever bothered to collate it. And there's the rub. If a government body in the UK claims that it would cost more than £450 to provide an answer to a query, then they're entitled to refuse the request. And that's what this particular authority has done.

They base their decision on one council officer spending more than 18 hours in "determining whether the Council hold the information, and locating, retrieving and extracting the information..." That's 18 hours at £25 per hour.

A pretty good rate for someone working at the local council, wouldn't you think? Especially if their job is to open up old files and look inside for a piece of information and make a note of what it is. I reckon someone on work experience could probably do it. Or the most junior of admin staff. But it seems that for the purpose of rejecting the request, they're entitled to imagine that it's a job for an employee who earns between £40 and £50k a year.

How would they be spending their time? Here's where it gets truly ridiculous.

"Determining whether the information is held – 30 minutes." Hmm. They've already told me the information is held, so that's a little bit odd. Half an hour of whistling and tea-making, I guess.

"Locating the information – 30 hours (based on 10 mins per file)." This presupposes they archive their files in such a random fashion that even though they all serve an identical purpose, it would take 10 minutes to find the next one.

"Retrieving the information – 0 hours." I think they're possibly missing a trick here. There's the time it would take to reach up on a shelf, adjust the neighbouring files and bring the relevant one back to a table situated an average distance of, say, 2 metres away. (I would calculate an hour and half, based on 30 seconds per file.)

"Extracting the information – 9 hours (based on 3 min per file)." This is actually the only element of the response that seems remotely credible. I'm asking them to look in the file to find a specific piece of information, which should be pretty obvious.

Having waded through all this stuff, I can't help reaching the conclusion that by the time someone has constructed an email explaining why they can't locate the information, someone else could have nipped down the corridor, pulled out the files and started flicking through them.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Lost and found

Emergency call from Mrs W this morning. In the process of rescuing a lost cat she'd seen advertised on local posters, she'd managed to get her beautiful white top covered in muddy paw prints. I had to race down to the local station with a spare t-shirt, designed to save her embarrassment at work.

What had happened to the captured feline?

Mrs W took it into the local newsagent near the station and was told that it had already been found.

Which does beg the question: what's the difference between a cat who's lost and a cat who's been found?

Lost cats roam the streets aimlessly looking for prey and getting into scraps. Their distraught owners don't know where they've got to and fear they've been catnapped or run over by a car. When the little moggy is found, the first thing the owners do is let them out to wander the streets aimlessly looking for prey and getting into scraps.

Clearly we need posters announcing the successful recapture of any missing cats. This would serve much the same function as the 'all clear' siren after a World War II air raid.

"Puss-in-Boots has now been found. So if you see her padding around the local vicinity, please don't call us. No reward on offer."


Sunday, July 14, 2013

Would you have them any other way?

I don't know about you, but whenever I order pear crisps, I always insist they're air dried. With prawn cocktail, it matters less. But with pear...

Security not to be sniffed at

Edward Snowden's statement that he might seek asylum in that bastion of democracy, Russia, is decidedly weird. But not as weird as the news reported recently that Putin's government has found a novel way of avoiding the kind of security breach epitomised by Snowden and his pal Julian Assange.

According to Izvestya, the Putin government recently put in an order for 20 Triumph Adler typewriters. A source inside the Russian Federal Guard Service was quoted as saying that these low-tech machines each had their own unique signature and that paper reports were the order of the day from now on.

This quirky - or should I say querty - approach to government communication in the digital age certainly has security advantages. But all those carbon copies may have a dramatic impact on Russia's CO2 emissions.

There may also be other unforeseen consequences. 

'Vasily, hurry up and finish the report on our top-secret operation in Damascus. And stop sniffing that f*****g Tippex!' 


Friday, July 12, 2013

Washed and ready to cheat

Now, I'm as OCD as the next man, but even by my standards, the NHS hand-washing instructions below seem a tad OTT. I'm like HOW many stages?

We're told at the end that the whole process should last 15-30 seconds. That's quite a spectrum. They're saying you can wash your hands for half the length of time that someone else does and yet still fall into the 'clean' category. So why would anyone go for 30 seconds? You'd just cheat and do 15, wouldn't 't you?