AddThis SmartLayers

Council blocks journalist’s bid to make secret Brexit impact report public

CarloA local democracy reporter has accused a council of “shooting itself in the foot” after it blocked his bid to make public a secret report on the impact of Brexit on his patch.

Birmingham City Council has rejected a Freedom of Information request from Carl Jackson, pictured, on the grounds that the report was just a draft at the time it was produced.

Carl, who covers the authority for Trinity Mirror and the BBC under the taxpayer-funded scheme, became aware of the document’s existence after it was mentioned during a meeting of the council’s economy, skills and transport overview and scrutiny committee last month.

Heather Law, senior programme co-ordinator at the authority’s European and international affairs team, told the meeting the report had been produced prior to the referendum, but was not released to avoid influencing the vote.

The council has now rejected Carl’s request for the report to be made public two years after it was produced.

Giving its reasoning, the authority said: “The report was only ever a draft report shared with the chair of scrutiny and the chief executive at the time.

“The report was incomplete, not approved/signed off by any senior manager and did not progress beyond its first drafting stage. The decision not to progress with a full report was taken by the chief executive at that time.”

Carl is now considering challenging the council’s decision.

He told HTFP: “It seems the council has shot themselves in the foot with this one. It seemed prudent of them to commission a report on what the implications of a Leave vote might be for Birmingham.

“I also agree it was perhaps wise not to release it prior to the referendum and let the public make up its own minds on Brexit. But the decision by the former chief executive not to proceed with it is baffling.

“And the fact that two years on there is still no published report on what Birmingham will be faced with after leaving the EU is even more frustrating – especially when other cities have done it.

“For the council to then draw attention to this by promising a discussion on the ‘potential implications of Brexit’ which didn’t touch on any of the potential implications of Brexit, is a bit of an own goal.”

5 comments

You can follow all replies to this entry through the comments feed.
  • May 15, 2018 at 9:22 am
    Permalink

    Good to see a reporter challenging a council instead of usual run of mill reporting.

    Report this comment

    Like this comment(6)
  • May 15, 2018 at 11:16 am
    Permalink

    Good work, Carl.
    People aren’t stupid. Calling it a draft means it hasn’t been ‘sexed down’ and sanitised.

    Report this comment

    Like this comment(7)
  • May 15, 2018 at 1:03 pm
    Permalink

    Before I share in the applause for good reporting, I need to know something. Did Carl fire off an FoI before trying to get a copy of the report by other means?

    FoIs go to a specific council team which asks the relevant officers to provide answers to the questions. They are often reviewed by the communications team too before landing on a director’s desk to be amended, refused or signed off.

    Everyone in this process is a council officer and they are usually very cautious over issues which may affect their ‘work relationships’ with the politicians. Yes, they will try to spin it.

    However, the purpose of an overview and scrutiny committee is to provide an independent check on council decisions and members are drawn from all parties to make it more impartial.

    I’m guessing that the members of this committee were previously aware of this report because the decision not to release it would have ultimately been made by them.

    Given the divisive nature of the Brexit issue, I’m sure that one of them would have been more than happy to point Carl in the direction of a leak.

    If Carl’s first instinct was to FoI it after the meeting, rather than approach the councillors, he actually shot himself in the foot. If he did try other means, then he has my most sincere apologies and a well-done.

    These days, he has a well-done for even turning up at a council meeting!

    Report this comment

    Like this comment(10)
  • May 15, 2018 at 1:53 pm
    Permalink

    That’s two areas to my knowledge where the local democracy reporter scheme appears to be working (the other one’s Herefordshire). Proper reporting.

    Report this comment

    Like this comment(5)

House rules Add a comment

You now need to be logged-in to our site in order to comment on stories. Please login or register using the buttons below or login via Facebook or Twitter.

Register