Friday, 14 October 2011

When is a diary not a diary?

A while back I blogged about Cornwall Council regarding its cabinet members as 'volunteers' and suggested that someone who is given £28k per year should not be regarded as a volunteer.

Since then I have pressed the Council about the way it monitors the work of cabinet members and whether any note is taken about how much time they give to their role. This isn't so much an attempt to have a go at any particular cabinet member (indeed, there are some cabinet members who work extremely long hours and one who regularly gets to the office before 7am). It is more about the accountability of those who take on the role and make significant decisions in our name.

The answer I have got is this. Cabinet members are not regarded as employees and do not have terms and conditions and so do not have fixed allocations for holidays.

In addition (to quote from the reply I received):

"As Cabinet members perform functions of the Council it is clear that any record (such as their online diaries) which state they are unable to attend to that function is held by the Council for its business purposes and therefore covered by the Freedom of Information Act. However, there is no requirement for Cabinet members to explain why they are unavailable, as an employee would be required to."

"And whilst the Council’s calendar system does retain information relating to ‘holidays’ of Cabinet members, because the Council does not retain that information for its business purposes the information would not be covered by the Freedom of Information Act."

In my view, they have failed to provide a convincing argument for not coming up with the data. Most cabinet members do have online diaries and they do record holidays and other absences from the office in these. In addition, council officers, when responding to requests for meetings with the Cabinet members, do refer to these online diaries. Therefore it would appear that the diaries (and the recording of holidays) are used for business purposes.

So whilst this administration likes to view cabinet members as volunteers who can swan in and out of work as the whim takes them, at the same time they are arguing that there should be more of them paid by the taxpayer. I'd suggest that this argument would be a lot stronger if the current members of the cabinet worked to an expected set of hours.

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