Another angry splash in the Evening Star today. Andrea Hill again, and this time it is about a £1,474 bill for a photographic session. As the Star says: “In these days of economic hardship, no-one will buy into the council’s programme of change if they see public money being spent this way.”
Dig down in the paper’s report (unfortunately only a small part online) and this becomes a much more serious issue than an extravagant, vain, insensitive smoothing of the wrinkles of our £218,000 a year county council chief executive.
It took the Star four Freedom of Information requests to wheedle the details out of the council. This is what a spokesman told them:
Suffolk county council has been asked a number of questions about photography since October. In all cases, every effort was made to provide as much information as possible.
Due to changes in staffing, it would appear that some information was not provided in the earlier responses. We’ve now fully rectified the situation.
It is not clear whether the last sentence means the staffing problems have been solved or that all the information has now been provided. But here we have an admission that the council has not met its obligations under the FoI Act. That is not a surprise as over the past few weeks I have heard several complaints and suspicions that the council’s information office was being less than forthcoming.
The Star started its quest in the middle of October last year, The response came back on bonfire night that there has been no direct commissioning of photography of the chief execuutive since September 2008. A second request revelealed that the photographer Robert Johns had been paid £7.706.50 by the county council. The next request elicited the information that this was for work on the “Suffolk Story and Cookbook” and a further £1,474.76 for pictures of Hill. The final request related to the photographs of other council directors (the council could not answer) and about a delay in paying Johns.
The failure to meet legal obligations under the the FoI act requires a detailed investigation and explanation. But unfortunately, I fear it will take several information requests to discover the extent of the problem.
Another aspect of the the picture portfolio story is the doubts it casts on the council’s procurement systems. The photographer was paid £1,474 for the snaps but the council failed to purchase the copyright. The Evening Star has to pay the photograper directly for the use of the pictures.
For thirty years it has been important when commissioning pictures for communications purposes to ensure that phhotographer passes all rights to the purchaser. If whoever commissioned the pictures did not know that they should not be spending council tax-payers’ money.
This underlines the concerns about whether the council is capable of managing the arrangements which will result from the New Strategic Direction which aims to make Suffolk an “enabling” council.
- Portrait of Nelson Mandela with which Robert Johns won the 2006 portrait prize in the 2006 Press Photographer of the Year awards