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Barnet blogger 'costs council £40,000'

PUBLISHED: 18:00 05 October 2011

Barnet Council's Cllr Daniel Thomas

Barnet Council's Cllr Daniel Thomas

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Bloggers have accused Barnet Council of smearing them after it claimed one citizen journalist cost the taxpayer £40,000 in Freedom of Information requests.

Bloggers have accused Barnet Council of smearing them after it claimed one citizen journalist cost the taxpayer £40,000 in Freedom of Information requests.

Council finance boss Cllr Daniel Thomas suggested that one blogger submitted 175 FoI requests in just six months, costing the council £225 an answer. But community commentators blamed the number of information requests on “obstructive” replies and rubbished the council’s cost claims, saying no extra staff were employed and some FoI requests would take a matter of minutes to complete.

The allegations come following a letter sent to Communities Secretary Eric Pickles by bloggers accusing the Conservative council of a “culture of secrecy and fear of transparency” around its cost-cutting One Barnet plan. The group has also won support from David Miller, a former chairman of a local Conservative association, who said there was a “culture of obsessive secrecy which permeates through every fibre of the council’s being”.

Cllr Thomas said: “The council completely rejects complaints about lack of transparency around the One Barnet programme given there have been numerous Cabinet reports, a full debate in council and the agreement of the One Barnet Framework last October.”

John Dix, who blogs under the alias Mr Reasonable, suggested the council was under pressure from Tory HQ after Mr Pickles praised the “armchair auditors” following the MetPro scandal.

He told the Ham&High: “The bloggers feel we’re getting a lot of traction with Conservative central office and residents across the borough. I think they are just getting worried and this was something to say, ‘These bloggers are a real nuisance and look how much they are costing the council and the taxpayer’.”

Mr Mustard, who is believed to be the blogger referred to by Cllr Thomas, blogged in reply to the allegations: “The sum of £40,000 has not been spent answering FoI questions. £nil (sic) has been spent. All FoI questions are answered by staff in the normal course of their work.

“There are over 3,000 staff employed by the council so answering one question a day between them is hardly going to stop normal work. No extra staff have been employed.”

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