Early last month, I made a couple of information requests to H&F council under the Freedom of Information Act. I submitted the requests about one week apart from each other. The second request, asking which company publishes the soon-to-be-defunct H&F News, was completed quickly. The first one, which asked if any emails regarding the West London Free School had been sent between Cambridge House and the Bryony Centre, was delayed twice (they explained that it would be delayed) and on 6 April, after it was delayed again and I had not heard from them, I sent a polite but short email asking what had happened to the requested information. Within hours, I received an email informing me that “no emails were sent between Cambridge School and the Bryony Centre in July of last year”.
Normally a request should take 20 days to complete. On this occasion it actually took the council 30 odd days to even tell me that there was nothing. I have to tell you, friends, that I am suspicious. So suspicious that I am about to make a complaint to the Information Commissioners Office. It seems to me that the council has not fulfilled its statutory obligation and when I asked them what had happened to the information, they failed to provide it on time. Given the fact that this council has maladministered my council tax account, perhaps the delay and the accompanying excuses were only to be expected. That said, there is something fishy going on and I intend to get to the bottom of it.
Recently H&F council has paid the Fulham Chronicle to carry its
information propaganda. Shepherds Bush blog broke the story on 14 February. This is an unprecedented move because I know of no other council that has made such an arrangement with an independent local paper. Nowhere Towers believes that the Fulham Chronicle will now go a little easier on H&F Council, since – according to the Cowan Report – the council has paid the paper £75,000 to carry its information. In many respects, this is like the Cabinet Office paying the Daily Mirror to disseminate the government’s ‘happiness’ agenda. Make no mistake, this recent move by the council conforms entirely to the propaganda model – only rather than a compnay paying for advertising space, H&F council will actually pay for its own information to be carried by the paper.
It’s a very worrying development and it appears prima facie to circumvent Eric Pickles’s agenda to clamp down on so-called “Town Hall Pravdas”. H&F council’s Dear Leader was cock-a-hoop about the deal. Here he is quoted on Shepherds Bush blog
“We have been incredibly proud to have published H&F News but this agreement is a positive step forward for the borough’s residents as we have secured an effective way of communicating our news, while delivering real value for money. As a result we will continue to have one of the lowest communication costs of any London borough.
“Additionally, this illustrates our commitment to supporting a vibrant independently produced newspaper in the borough.”
It’s the last paragraph that sticks in the mind. How can Greenhalgh possibly make this claim with a straight face?
Finally, I’ll always remember H&F News‘ “Your Shout” column, which was always written by a member of the paper’s editorial staff. This can be seen as a microcosm of the way in which H&F council works and is a possible indication of how its relationship with Fulham Chronicle might play out over the coming years.