Friday, 29 July 2011

Alliance and Pester

I feel I may have to call upon the might of the Tax Payers of Alliance to help hold Uncle Eric Pickles and Department for Communities and Local Government to account - not sure they will have to stomach for a fight with the the great man though.

Below is my latest request.

Dear Chums,

I have always enjoyed reading the considered ramblings from the Tax Payers Alliance. The TPA appears to me to be akin to a paramilitary-drunken- arm of The Daily Mail. A lot of what they say has some truth to it but is often voiced in a slurring, slightly menacing way. I guess they are a extreme example of Armchair Auditors in action but one can’t but feel they are not seated comfortably in an armchair but are standing up brandishing a bar stool above their head. Also they differ from some other Armchair Auditors in that they have wealthy backers and have attracted some controversy about not paying tax in the UK but let’s not go there today.

I stumbled across a gem the other day on the TPA website. The TPA wrote a blog attacking Nottingham Council’s handling of Freedom of Information requests. As you may know Nottingham have for many months been attracting the wrath of Uncle Eric about their reluctance to publish expenditure data. Uncle Eric has been so angry with them I almost fear for his health as this spate cannot be good for his blood pressure.  Nottingham’s stance has led to the TPA exposing their inability to respond to FoI requests correctly.

One paragraph in the blog particularly caught my beady eye:

“One instance of the latter tactic is the council’s attempt to silence a local blogger, Andy Platt, who uses FOI to scrutinise the council’s leadership and spending. When Platt asked for copies of internal reports on the housing allocations scandal in the council, the council invoked Section 14 of the Act, accusing Platt of making ‘vexatious’ requests. The basis for the ‘vexatious’ claim was that Platt had made twenty FOI requests in a year (which it classed as ‘obsessive’, despite the fact that they were on unrelated subjects), and that he often publishes findings from his requests on his satirical blog mocking NCC’s leadership (by some mysterious tenuous link his requests are thereby said to be ‘harassing the Authority and distressing its  colleagues’).

This contradicts FOI guidance, which clearly states that it must be the requests themselves which are vexatious, not the requester and not any use to which the information may be put. Unfortunately for the council, no sooner had it brushed off Platt than another – presumably less vexatious – requester asked for copies of the same internal reports. The council reverted to its default tactic for dealing with FOIs. It simply ignored the request.”

This seemed awfully familiar. As you may recall recently that Uncle Eric’s own department have declared me and others as vexatious. They described me as ‘obsessive’ even though I had submitted less than 2 requests a month. They decided to declare me as vexatious rather than my requests and they also claimed (but provided no evidence) that my requests causes distress to staff.
The cause of action that Nottingham are taking is uncannily similar to DCLG’s approach. I can only assume collusion.  So can you please provide the following:

1.       Any advice, guidance or endorsement that DCLG have provided to Nottingham in handling Freedom of Information requests.
2.       Any plans (including drafts) that DCLG have to encourage other local authorities to block FoI requests as they have done and now is being replicated by Nottingham?
3.       Any correspondence between DCLG and the Tax Payers Allowance relating to Nottingham Councils FoI request or expenditure data.

I fear I may have to write to the TPA and request they do a balanced piece on DCLGs handling of FoI requests like they have done on Nottingham. Now that would be fun.

Yours faeciously 

Monday, 25 July 2011

Fight The Power

As you probably are aware DCLG have tried to gag me from asking pertinent questions by declaring me as vexatious. For some reason they think I poke fun at Uncle Eric, well he is a big, slow moving target and does say some blooming stupid things, how could one resist having a pop at him. It could have been worse, instead of being called vexatious they could have sent the heavies round to have a word in my shell like. Just imagine how you would feel if Uncle Eric turned up at your gaff late one evening, on a Boris Bike wearing a fetching pair of rubber knickers with his two trusted SpAds on their BMXs?  I think that would put the fear of God into any hard working Christian family. I am sure Eric would see himself in his pin-strip suit as modern day Don Vito Corleone but to be frank he would more like Uncle Monty from Withnail and I.

But all is not lost. I am pleased to see that there is a growing army of armchair auditors out there holding Uncle Eric and company to account via  . On a daily basis wonderful and insightful freedom of information requests are put to DCLG. It is interesting to see that DCLG have at times taken a bizarre and often combative approach in dealing with requestors legal right for information. This has led to an increase in requests for costly internal reviews as well as last week a referral to the Information Commissioners Office. I suspect the ICO are busy with another big media story at the moment but I am sure will get round to slapping Uncle Eric across his large backside at some point in the future.

It is worth taking a few moments to read the request from Steve Elibank that led to a referral to the ICO (see:

DCLG turned down his request and even had the cheek to accuse him of being a fan of yours truly and this they said was part of the reason for turning down his request. You have all been warned – I will have become your guilty pleasure.

There are numerous excellent requests that have been submitted to DCLG over the last couple of weeks. Here are a selection that caught my eye. Some of these people have been active a while and really getting stuck into the armchair and enjoying their auditing work:

Uncle Eric has been keen to preach to local councils and talk down to them.  He has insulted hard working staff. He has made decisions without evidence and in some instances relied on the most crass research. He has shown considerable ignorance and the ‘reasoning of a 10 year old’  - see Ben Goldacre’s recent piece

Dr Goldacre’s wonderful demolition of a poorly piece of research by Opera Solutions was subsequently used in a DCLG press release. This shows either a wilful disregard of facts or the brain power of a very stupid rat with hangover – you decide which. Whilst I am sure Opera Solutions had their reasons for writing up their ’research’, it is Uncle Eric who should be vilified for his using it.

I am sure this is not the last we will hear of this. After all, as they say it is not over until the fat lady sings although in this case there is fat gent that should be singing an apology.

Finally, if there are Uncle Eric and co related issues you want raised feel free to contact me via twitter @DerekTickles or email [@] I am here to help.

Sunday, 17 July 2011

I wanna tell you a story

The twins are getting excited as soon after school breaks up for the summer, we will be going on holiday. I cannot tell you exactly when as I fear HR will be forced to review annual leave records in an attempt to identify me. This year we are heading back to Devon and I am sure some of you are pleased to hear that we will pop in to see our adopted donkey at the wonderful Donkey Sanctuary.

Due to their excitement the kids are not falling asleep without a lengthy bedtime story. Last week, I tried to read them the localism bill but after 120 pages they sadly lost the plot – I fear they are not the only ones.  So yesterday I thought I would try to make up my own tale. Here it is:

Once upon a time, not many months ago lived a nasty man who spoke with a Yorkshire rasping voice punctuated with heavy briefing. This man rightly had few friends but had a band of acolytes that followed him around the country and helped him with his dirty deeds.  This man was called the Pie-d Pickler and he wrought damage on many communities.

One day the Pied Pickler and his followers arrived at the small principality of Eland. The people of Eland were a happy, helpful bunch who loved their families and looked out for each other - although on occasions they could be a little work shy. The Elanders had a good life and enjoyed good food – including wonderful famous 7-course breakfasts. The only problem in Eland was an infestation of rats. Some people suggested that the rat numbers had increased due food waste and fortnightly bin collections but the real reason was linked to the local private water companies investing little in clearing rat nests in sewers – after all why would they want to waste their precious profits on such a smelly problem – think of all the poo in the sewer!!

When the Pied Pickler arrived in Eland he demanded changes, but first he demanded a mixed grill for him and his followers (though NSW asked for a salad). The people of Eland provided food and ask for payment. The Pied Pickler held his big belly and laughed. He said he would not pay. The Mayor of Eland begged him to pay to say they needed the money to deal with the rats and deliver improvements to local public services. The Mayor said they could not live with the rats in their houses. The Pied Pickler promised he would deal with the problem and the Elanders would no longer have to share their homes with the rats. The Mayor thanked him and was happy.

The next day the Pied Pickler arrived in the main square and pulled out his magic pipe. He huffed and puffed and then played a tune that no one recognised nor enjoyed. The tune was horrid (it was even worse that when Daddy plays the Led Bib album that you both hate). The Pied Pickler kept playing and after 3 days the people of Eland could not take it anymore. They were forced to leave their homes and community. They simply were forced to become homeless.

After the exodus of forty thousand people of Eland, the Pied Pickler put down his pipe. A raven appeared and emitted a loud krak from atop the Tree of Celebration and the sky turned black. Forthwith the rats appeared. The number of rats was great and could not be counted by man (but  according to the word of wiki and The Sun the quantum was 81 million). The Pied Pickler told the rats that as the residents of Eland had disrespected his authority that the people had been banished from their homes and the rats could live for free and forever in Eland. The rats looked up to the corpulent flautist with tears in their ratty eyes and he said to them ‘This is my word and I am here to share the love’.

And no-one lived happily ever after.
                                    ....The End.....

After I finished this story the twins were asleep. Then next morning Mrs T told me that the twins had had nightmares and they told her they had developed allergy to my stories. Bright kids but I am sure they meant allegory.

[I know some of you will read my story and think I half-inched bits of the narrative and replicated the style from a more famous story about rats. I do concede this but justify it by saying I have always been a fan of The Plague by Albert Camus].

Friday, 8 July 2011

You Dirty Rat

I am sure we have all smelt a few bad things when we have been around Uncle Eric. This time my FoI request is because I have smelt another rat.

 Here is my latest Freedom of Information request to DCLG via the wonderful

Hello Chums

I must confess I am fan of evidence based policy making but I fully understand that sometimes policy based decision have to be made for political reasons.  When the twins are playing up and questioning why they cannot stay up, even after I have given them their nightly Red Bull and donut, I simply tell them because I say so – end of argument. I do not think I need to provide evidence that supports the case that children who do not get adequate sleep do not perform as well at school due to tiredness or conduct a randomised double blind longitudinal study to support my case.

What I do find questionable is when Uncle Eric makes policy decisions wrapped up with pseudo evidence in an attempt to give them legitimacy.  It is like Jennifer Aniston in the L’Oreal advert telling us “Here’s the science bit” – though sadly without the glamour. Although Uncle Eric’s hair is the nicest thing about him.

Uncle Eric has been banging on about weekly bin collections for as long as I can remember, though I think he may pipe down a bit now he has been out bossed by Caroline Spelman recently on incentivising a return to weekly bin collection. DEFRA 1 DCLG 0.

Uncle Eric has said, usually with a rasping sinister tone in the past:

"By ending the weekly collection, Labour has doubled the country's rat population since 1996 (to an estimated 80 million). We are only 20ft away from a rat any time".

 I am sure many would question whether it was Labour policy to force councils to move to fortnightly collection or whether this was simply localism in action – after all more Conservative councils have moved away from weekly collection than Labour – I thought Uncle Eric loves localism. The statement that I am most interested in is concerning the population and location of rats.

Whilst I am sure that Uncle Eric is never more than 20ft away from a rat I am sure he was not referring to poor Grant Shapps – who is I believe is desperate for promotion and will do whatever necessary to get the PM to notice his mad capped ideas but he is not a rat. (Perhaps a weasel, skunk or dingo would be more apt).

I have done a quick bit of research and according to wiki the UK rat population is estimated at 81 million. Wow this is the figure that Uncle Eric has been stating –well I looked at the source for this figure and it comes from the respected peer reviewed journal called The Sun – who have rarely been accused of making stuff up.  (See:  In the article it also mentions a 39% increase in the rat population since 2000. The article concludes with the suggestion that to understand what damage rats can do then suggests asking Cheryl Cole alongside a picture of Ashley Cole.  I must confess I have never seen an article in the Lancet end like this! The sources mentioned for this article are Rentokil – who may well be experts in rat catching but perhaps have a vested interest in talking up the number of rats – just an idea.

So please can you supply
           Any independent research in rat population and location that has been commissioned by DCLG or has been used to support statements made by Uncle Eric Pickles.

As an aside, if we find that Rentokil can conduct a census of the rat population and know where they live, then why not get rid of ONS and get the pest controllers to run the census next time – it should be cheaper and quicker.

It has been suggested that a possible reason for an increase in rat population is related to councils reducing expenditure on pest control and increasing charges.

So please can you supply

2)      Research conducted on the reduction of expenditure on pest control service by councils and the changes in charges for pest control services.

Alternatively if no evidence exist to support Uncle Eric’s statement then please say so – it won’t be the first time and sure won’t be the last. Fortunately though we are getting use to smelling a rat.

Yours ratting on you


Monday, 4 July 2011

Fame and Fear

Well I never! What a few days.....

On Friday I arrived home a hero. Mrs T, the twins and Bob and his dog were there to cheer me up the garden path. Under my arm I carried a copy the Local Government Chronicle, I held my head high and my chest was swelled with pride. Quite simply I had made it. I had been recognised – I was famous!!

The LGC article was beautifully written by the charming Ruth Keeling and outlined my struggles with DCLG to extract information from the department using the Freedom of Information Act. Recently DCLG have decided to deploy a tactic to declare requests as vexatious rather than simply supply the information that the requester is legally entitled to – so much for Uncle Eric’s cry for transparency.

Friday night I felt like royalty, not exactly Pippa, more Beatrice. I received calls and messages of congratulations but I assured everyone that I will not let it change me. I may be a star but I will remain true to my roots and not give up my day job (or even my evening job as an armchair auditor). Having said that if someone wants to commission a TV talk show or Hollywood blockbuster – please contact my agent Mrs T.  I am most certainly open to offers darlings.

Late on Saturday night my revelry was broken. A DCLG memo was leaked to The Observer  concerning estimates that suggested an extra 40,000 could be made homeless by proposed benefit caps. I was forced to issue a statement from the steps of my home, quoting the words of the reggae maestro Shaggy – “It wasn’t me!” Ok this was a bit over-dramatic considering I was not being door stepped by the media but I felt given my new  position in the media spotlight I had to issue a statement. With fame comes responsibilities.

That brings us to Monday.  Today it was said in The Telegraph that tweeter NakedCServant had been dismissed from his job for saying a few nasty things about sensitive Uncle Eric Pickles and poor Grant Shapps.  Blimey if this is the new way to deal with a few people moaning a bit, there will not be many left at DCLG once Uncle Eric has performed his Great purge.  Perhaps it is time for me to keep my cake hole shut – but we all know how hard that can be don’t we Eric – especially when there is so much lovely cake about?