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  • Olympics forced to reveal bonus details

    Posted on January 7th, 2011 admin 1 comment

    Bonus payments. Nice if you get them.

    I know I have been away for too long. I have ignored those of you with empty lives like me who hanker for any snippet of FoI related news or gossip.

    Well now I’m back, I promise. This blog will get bigger and better. I was given a coffee-maker for Christmas and if I have to consume a double espresso at midnight to write this blog – then that’s what I’ll do.

    Apart from the normal asking questions, getting answers, writing news stories I am becoming all too familiar with the workings of the Information Tribunal.

    I’ll start today off with my experience of bringing my own appeal against the Information Commissioner and the Olympic Delivery Authority.

    This case has rumbled on for months and a date was eventually set for November 10. On the day in question I arrived in London with all my papers but realised I was lacking one essential item – a remembrance poppy.

    The horror of being the only person in the room without a poppy so consumed me that I began approaching strangers in the street asking to buy their one – and was refused. Eventually I got one from the Nationwide Building Society and was ready for legal war.

    The key to the case was that I wanted to know how much the executive of the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) could have been paid as a maximum bonus, and what performance criteria determine those payments.

    I’ve written about this case before [here and here] so I will not go over it in too much detail for those of you who are already familiar with it.

    In summary I represented myself, the ODA had Mr Pitt-Payne QC of Panopticon fame and the Information Commissioner had barrister Joanne Clements. They brought along about 10 paper shufflers and I took my mum and dad, who I think are curious as to how their son makes a living.

    I crossed swords with Sir Roy McNulty and then the ODA’s Aussie chief executive David Higgins (I should have mentioned the cricket).

    Well the upshot of the whole thing is that I think if we continue with the Olympic theme I can award myself a bronze or silver medal. Gold I’m afraid I can’t lay claim to as the Tribunal decision was that the objectives that underpin the bonus payment should remain secret.

    However, my appeal was upheld as it was stated that the ODA and the Commissioner should have allowed me to know what the maximum bonus was that the executives could have been paid.

    My argument is that bonus payments are pretty meaningless to the general public unless we can know how much of their bonus they were awarded. A chief executive who gets a bonus of £50,000 might be doing a good job, but if he could have got £500,000 if his performance had been better, I’d say he was pretty poor.

    Anyhow, expect questions on executives’ bonus payments in the near future. There is a link [here] to the decision of the Tribunal and [here] to a revised question for the ODA.

    Next week more of my Tribunal skirmishes with the BBC, the Royal Mail and the Tate Modern over a nude picture of Brooke Shields.

  • Awaiting a Tribunal with Godric

    Posted on February 4th, 2010 admin 3 comments
    Godric Smith. Paid £225,000 last year. Should we know how good a job he is doing as Communications boss at the ODA?

    Godric Smith. Paid £225,000 last year. Should we know how good a job he is doing as Communications boss at the ODA?

    I’ve been in business as DataNews for more than a year now and have had a number of cases filter through the office of the Information Commissioner.

    Some I’ve won and a couple I have lost, but up until Christmas there was not a case that I was prepared to go to the barricades for and pursue through to the Information Tribunal.

    Well, I have now lodged an appeal with the new Tribunal office in relation to a complaint I made about the way my FoI request was dealt with by the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA).

    The ODA is the organisation tasked with spending £9billion of public money building the site for the 2012 Olympics in Stratford, north-east London.

    I should say at this point that I am NOT anti-sport or anti-Olympics and have no grudge against the ODA, indeed I grew up a javelin’s throw away from the site of the 2012 games.

    What gets my goat in this particular case is the privacy that is afforded to some of the country’s highest paid public servants.

    David Higgins, the Aussie Chief Executive of the ODA, has cost the organisation more than £1million in salary and bonus payments in just the last two years.

    His basic salary in 07/08 was £373k plus a tasty £205k bonus and in 08/09 it was £384k + £209k bonus.

    What I wanted to know was the criteria for paying Mr Higgins these huge bonus payments – especially given their huge size and the fact that the ODA cannot be accurately assessed as being a success or not until the opening ceremony of the Games.

    My request asked for the criteria on which his bonus payment was assessed, whether he qualified for 100% of his potential bonus payment and if he didn’t qualify for the whole lot which areas he was deemed as coming up short in. My argument is that this is no longer personal information, as it might well be for an employee further down the food chain.

    In the rarefied atmosphere of the ODA boardroom we the public deserve and have the right to know what he is being paid a bonus for and more importantly what he is NOT being paid a bonus for.

    The Commissioner looked at the arguments and ruled against me saying that the information I wanted was still subject to a S.40 (Personal Information) exemption as to supply me with the figures would be a breach of the Data Protection Act.

    I also asked for similar data in relation to Godric Smith, a former resident of Prime Minister Blair’s press office and now the £192,000 + £33 bonus Head of Communications for the ODA. My request for his bonus criteria were also refused on the same basis, although Mr Smith wrote the Commissioner a letter stating how the release of his bonus details would “cause unwarranted interference”.

    So, I have now embarked upon a battle to see if I can overturn the Commissioner’s decision and the ODA secrecy wishes at the Tribunal.

    I think this is a key point because if these sort of details cannot be extracted from people in positions like Higgins and Smith then we might as well wave the white flag and go home.

    For some reason the Commissioner has not (I can’t find it) put the decision notice on the website so at the moment I cannot provide people with a link to the document. When it does go up there I’ll post it up. It is Ref: FS50259954

    Also I’ll be putting in a request to the Commissioner asking for a copy of Godric Smith’s letter. See the link [here].

    As I will probably be up against somebody from 11KBW being paid thousands to keep the information secret I’d be grateful for any help or advice.

    NOTE: Apologies for not updating the site much over Christmas/New Year. Pressure of work. But I hope to get back into the swing of things again now.

  • Higgins on cue for jackpot finish to London 2012

    Posted on October 1st, 2009 admin 1 comment
    David Higgins hopes not to have trouble with the builders

    David Higgins hopes not to have trouble with the builders

    The subject of top officials’ pay is a constant one in the land of Freedom of Information – and the related topic of bonus payments for those individuals is even more complex.

    As the law stands at the moment a request for the salary details of a chief executive of a public authority or a chief constable will illicit the details. The total paid out as a bonus payment will also normally be revealed.

    But what at the moment is guarded with some ferocity is the requirements that the top person has achieved to warrant the payment of such a bonus payment. This will normally be protected by a S.40 (Personal information) exemption.

    My personal view is if somebody at the head of a large publicly accountable organisation is going to accept bonus payments then we the public should be made aware of what those targets are.

    Why? Well the objectives that a pay review body set a chief executive are strategic targets for the organisation as a whole and indicate to the paying public what are the priorities for that organisation might be – and perhaps more interestingly what are not deemed to be priorities.

    So I imagine that a chief constable’s bonus could be linked to the prevalence of knife crime and a hospital boss’s bonus to the number of MRSA infections.

    And because these are strategic targets that the organisation as a whole has to work to achieve I believe we should know which of the bonus elements a chief executive achieves, and which ones he or she falls short of reaching.

    In an attempt to push this point through I had been looking for the head of an organisation where a test case would help to establish this principle.

    Step forward David Higgins the chief executive of the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA). His salary in 2007-08 was £373,000 to which was added a bonus payment of £205,000. Cynics among you might wonder how he can justify a £205,000 bonus when the games are still four years away. You might argue – and I have – that really he shouldn’t get a bonus until the final curtain comes down on London 2012 and we can then assess if he has done a good job.

    Well my appeal into Mr Higgins’ bonus payment and the targets that lay behind it is now sitting on the desk of the Information Commissioner and I’m hopeful they might issue a decision notice on the matter before the games actually start.

    But what has interested me now is the latest set of accounts for the ODA. In it Mr Higgins salary has edged up to £384,000 yet his bonus payment has dropped £100,000 to £105,000. This severe cut to his bonus is accompanied by an asterix* which further down in the document gives an explanation.

    It says: “For the financial year 2008-09, the Remuneration Committee determined that a performance related payment of £209,566 was the appropriate amount to recognise the Chief Executive’s performance. However the Chief Executive voluntarily deferred half of that amount until no later than December 2012, subject to the satisfactory delivery of the current programme scope within the maximum available budget agreed by the Minister for the Olympic and Paralympic Games.”

    So, it would appear that although the ODA turned down my internal review for greater transparency of Mr Higgins’ bonus payments – some of my argument has been accepted, in that it’s ludicrous to award huge bonus payments to the person during the course of an ongoing project where the success can really only be assessed after it is finished.