Just what is Junket Janke hiding? The mystery of Bristol council’s Eurocities 2010 gravy train

For some reason Bristol City Council has been dragging its feet over a Freedom of Information request relating to a trip to Zaragoza for the Eurocities conference back in early November by council leader Barbara ‘Junket’ Janke, her £72,000 per year ‘director of place-making’ Mike Bennett, and possibly other hangers-on.

With the suspicion that this little four day jaunt to sunny Spain cost a pretty penny or two and serves little to no purpose at a time when the city council is threatening massive cutbacks to services and jobs across Bristol, it seems curious that the council has not been keener to wheel out its no doubt entirely valid and deep-ranging justifications – I am sure we are all waiting with excitement for old favourites like “value for money”, “strategic partnerships” and even “post-industrial destination economy”.

But, despite being legally obliged to respond within a month, the council still has yet to even acknowledge the original FoI request, so requester Steve Woods has politely resubmitted it:

Dear Bristol City Council,

I have not yet received a reply, or even the courtesy of an acknowledgment, to my FoI request for information on the visit of Barbara Janke and the Director of Place to the Eurocities 2010 conference
in Zaragoza, Spain.

A full reply should have been received by 6th November and Bristol City Council is therefore in breach of the law by not having responded within the stipulated term.

I set out below verbatim the text of my original request for your information, just in case it has slipped into oblivion down the back of the municipal filing cabinet.

“Dear Bristol City Council,

I understand that the Leader of the Council, Barbara Janke, and the Director of Place recently attended the Eurocities 2010 conference in Zaragoza, Spain.

My queries under the FoI Act are as follows:

1. Did any other representatives of Bristol City Council attend this conference, apart from those mentioned above?

2. What was the overall cost (registration, travel, accommodation, etc.) to the City Council of its representatives attending the Eurocities 2010 conference.

Yours faithfully,

Steve Woods”

Can you please advise by return just what the current position is with this request, as well as when I can expect a reply.

Yours faithfully,

Steve Woods

Exuding the sense of opaque entitlement often found with a certain kind of ‘knowledge economy’ technocrat, somewhat cantankerous servant of the city Bennett – formerly the chief self-facilitating node at Bristol Media – has not even mentioned the Eurocities event on his blog since October (before it took place!), much less than offered any insights on what ‘the team’ learned there to us, the Great Unwashed of the city… Could this be because he and Babs got up to some unsavoury Spanish practices of their own at the taxpayer’s expense out there?

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8 responses to “Just what is Junket Janke hiding? The mystery of Bristol council’s Eurocities 2010 gravy train

  1. Hello,

    Strange this one, I was asked to supply this information about 3 days after the original request came in?

    I believe the Leader was asked to attend the conference to be part of a panel, therefore all of her costs were covered by the organisers. My bill came to about £630 (from memory).

    Sorry, no sordid details to report, and we were only away for 2 nights (not 4). I did insist on separate rooms which, granted did push the costs up a bit.

    Yes, good point I will update my blog very soon with “what I got out of it”.

    I’ll chase to see what has happened to Mr. Woods enquiry.

    Regards
    Mike
    Cantankerous, Nathan Barley Technocrat.

  2. Cheers for the swift response – if only BCC as an organisation could manage to bang out the odd within-time limit FoI reply once in a while!

  3. @Mike

    Thanks for your reply (and interesting punctuation).

    Perhaps you’d like to explain why I have yet to receive an acknowledgement, let alone the courtesy of a reply via official BCC channels. My guess is you’ll have to venture into the cellar of the Count’s Louse and open the door bearing the notice “Beware of the Leopard”.

  4. Steve,

    I can’t explain. I have no idea what happens to or where FOI requests go. I have chased and asked the chief exec’s office to look into this and supply you with an answer as a matter of urgency.

    M

  5. It seems a little online embarrassment of Bristol City Council can produce miracles. I received a reply today within hours.

    @Mike

    Thanks for your intervention. We, the citizens of Bristol would also like to know what happens to FoI requests. Your employer seems to make great use of the dark arts of prevarication and hiding behind the excuse of commercial confidentiality (to name but two excuses), particularly if the answer is likely to be awkward or embarrassing to the council.

  6. No problem. I appreciate your frustration. Although, to be honest you have my word it wasn’t prevarication and hiding behind the excuse of commercial confidentiality…I think it just got lost. Not great, but like any big organisation it does happen from time to time. No excuse…just saying.

  7. thebristolblogger

    Mike,
    You’re very new to the workings of local authorities I know. But really things don’t just get lost. They are deliberately lost. You’ll find – if you haven’t already – that you’ll be a victim of this culture as much as us.

  8. Given that I was kept waiting for weeks without an acknowledgement then a reply miraculously appears out of the ether in hours bears the hallmarks of deliberate obfuscation by Bristol City Council followed by a bad attack of panic once their ruse had been discovered.

    Finally, I’m perplexed by the response: I asked a question about finance; why has the response come from Stephen McNamara, the head of Legal Services?

    [Edited at author’s request]

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