Campaigner’s demand for probe into Milton Keynes Council’s information policies gets immediate answer

Councillors have agreed to a campaigner’s demand to start a probe into how the council handles information that should be freely available to the public.

Thursday, 25th March 2021, 12:45 pm
Updated Thursday, 25th March 2021, 12:46 pm

The issue focuses on the controversial deletion of emails to do with the Blakelands warehouse planning affair as residents battle to find out how the building was allowed to double in height.

A judge scolded the council earlier this year for the way it made residents “prise” information out of it.

Council leader Pete Marland repeated an apology to Blakelands residents, saying the council “should have done better in how it kept its records.”

Resident Davina Scholefield took advantage of a council rule that allows members of the public to request that an issue be scrutinised.

Mrs Scholefield, a retired Information Technology (IT) manager at Luton Borough Council said Wednesday’s meeting of the scrutiny management committee needed to be aware of the seriousness of the issue.

“You need to be aware that the council is potentially facing a serious situation if the issues raised in the judgement are not swiftly addressed,” she said.

Judge David Thomas and tribunal members Anne Chafer and Paul Taylor ruled that council policies are unclear and inconsistent.

Cllr Keith McLean

“It is surprising no back ups of emails were available 28 days after deletion,” said Mrs Scholefield.

“I believe you must review the council’s retention policies, removing any inconsistencies and publishing that on the council’s website as required by the Freedom of Information Act.”

She added it is “beyond comprehension in this day and age that the council puts in place a policy that prevents the recovery of any information beyond 28 days of its loss.”

Chairing the committee, Cllr Keith McLean (Cons, Olney) said it could be added to the agenda for the next meeting of the committee in June. Councillors agreed without debate.

But elsewhere on the agenda, councillors discussed the issues they could probe in the next municipal year.

Cllr Peter Geary (Cons, Olney), who chairs the place-making scrutiny committee, wanted to scrutinise planning in more depth.

But he failed to win support, as it is already being looked at by the powerful audit committee.

And they will also be looking into the work of the council’s internal planning improvement board which was set up in the wake of Blakelands.

Councillors were asked for their ideas for issues to scrutinise at specialist task and finish groups, which quiz officers in depth.

They are yet to agree which issues to look into but a probe of housing emerged with a lot of support. They want to have a look at whether the city is providing the right kind of housing.

Cllr Sam Crooks (Lib Dem, Broughton) asked for a review of how planners predict traffic, claiming that modelling is out of date.

There was also a call for a look at estate renewal forums, which are being set up across the city to give residents a role in the decision making process.