Wednesday, April 20, 2011

New standards of openness and transparency

The BBC has today published its latest set of disclosures, which for the first time, includes some salary and expenses data relating to the current BBC Director of Children's. A mystery surrounds why Mr Godwin's data were not published previously, and it's is an issue which I originally took up with the BBC in February 2010.

There is still an outstanding disclosure enquiry relating to Mr Godwin which has been dealt with by the BBC in a less than honest manner. This is how I put it to James Leaton Gray, BBC Head of Information Policy & Compliance, on Monday:

The BBC Trust recently indicated that it wished the BBC to set new standards of openness and transparency. Members of the public are entitled to expect you to fulfil your role in a professional and impartial manner. However I suspect your department's misleading responses (see attached screencapture) have set a new low standard for the Corporation.

Anyone who carefully checks out the BBC's "disclosures" will notice that a substantial number of links are broken or never worked in the first place. One example of the latter is Joe Godwin's Declaration of Personal Interests link which, at the time of writing, returns "Error 404 - Page not found"

BBC expenses
screencapture from 'About the BBC' website

This following email was sent to the BBC at 10.46am today -

FAO: James Leaton Gray, Head of Information Policy & Compliance

Dear Mr Gray,

In reply to your email yesterday, I still believe that my FOI enquiry has been dealt with improperly.

The sequence of events was as follows:

My original request (see below) was emailed on 9th March 2011, and acknowledged by your department on 10th March. The enquiry was given a reference number RFI20110305.

The subject of my email was: Freedom of Information Enquiry re BBC Director of Children's

The BBC's FOI acknowledgement was titled: RFI20110305 - BBC Director of Children's salary

It did, however, quote my enquiry in full.

The BBC response was sent on Thursday 7th April 2011, just outside the time limit, for which an apology was given. Two documents were attached. The first (RFI20110305 - final response.pdf) included a detailed explanation as to why Mr Godwin's salary details had been withheld, as well as the following two sentences under the heading of 'Expenses' -

"Please find enclosed a schedule of Joe Godwin’s expenses from 1st October 2009 – 30th September 2010. For a small number of entries, we have added some additional notes for context."

The document ended with a paragraph explaining my rights of appeal.

The other attached document (RFI20110305 - Disclosure document - Joe Godwin expenses data.pdf) was the said list of expenses.

Being surprised to note that there were apparently no expenses in relation to Mr Godwin's attendance at last year's Children's Media Conference, I followed up the next day, 8th April 2011, asking if you would recheck to see if more details were available.

No reply was received.

Six days later, on 14th April 2011, I emailed again repeating the request. Your department replied the same day mentioning that they had contacted the BBC's Finance department. I was informed that the data provided constitutes details of all claims paid to Joe Godwin in the period specified. I then enquired once again (at 2.23pm) whether there might indeed have been other expenses.

The next morning, Friday 15th April 2011 at 11.10am I emailed again asking for an adequate response by 6pm. Your department's reply then stated for the first time that requests for expenses are treated as requests for expenses paid to the claimant. No reason was given for not having informed me of this in reply to my emails of 8th and 14th April 2011, neither was there any apology for what might well be reasonably characterised as a misleading and possibly dishonest response. Instead I was issued with a different reference number for what was termed my "new request."

I wrote back at 5.30pm: "This is not a new request. I did not limit my original request in any way. This gives the clear impression that the BBC is deliberately withholding information."

I wrote again on Monday 18th April 2011 pointing out what the BBC Trust had to say about new standards of openness and transparency which I felt had not been met in your handling of this case. I attached a JPEG of the 'About the BBC' website which seems to back up my view that your department should have been forthcoming on all expenses from the start.

I advised that you conduct a review of your department's procedures, and requested that my enquiry, with reference number of your choice, be expedited. I said I would be grateful for an answer by 6pm that day.

A reply yesterday (19th April 2011) attempted to defend your position, linking to what seems to be a BBC staff information document.

You said in part:

'the BBC discloses details of expenses once they have been paid as this is the point at which a cost is incurred by the corporation.'

Now I originally wrote:

In respect of the Director of Children's, Joe Godwin, please could the BBC provide details of salary and expenses for

A) The first two quarters (Q1, Q2) of 2010-2011;


B) The last two quarters (Q3, Q4) of 2009-2010.

My request applied to 'expenses' without any distinction, i.e. whether reclaimed by Joe Godwin or otherwise incurred to the BBC, and your most recent message is no excuse for the lack of transparent disclosure - during the quarter they were incurred by the BBC - of all Joe Godwin's expenses.

Nevertheless I was told yesterday to expect a response within an additional 20 working days.

As I may decide to pursue this matter with relevant authorities, it would be most helpful if you could let me know as soon as possible if there is anything in the above with which you take issue. Thank you.

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