Wednesday 3 April 2013

A Spurious Argument by Labour

Reading’s Labour administration is stopping the automatic forwarding of emails from the council email account of each councillor to their personal email account. They are justifying this on the shaky grounds that this puts Reading Council at risk of fines by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).

During February’s full council meeting Labour’s Lead for Service Improvement Cllr Jan Gavin produced a list of ICO fines to the Conservative Group which she claimed proved that local authorities were being fined for insecure councillor emails.

However when I worked through Cllr Gavin’s list looking carefully at each example not one supported her claim!  Some had nothing whatsoever to do with local authorities.  However those cases relating to authorities substantiated my argument: that the highly confidential papers dealt with by the social worker teams must be protected.

The London Borough of Lewisham was on Labour’s list.  Lewisham was fined £70,000 as a result of a social worker leaving highly confidential documents on a train in a carrier bag.  If only that social worker had instead held the sensitive information in a secure council net-book computer nobody could have easily read the information. 

As the public knows, social workers have a crucial front-line role protecting our town’s most vulnerable children.  They deal with highly confidential information and the pressure on them to keep looked after children safe is colossal.  It is absolutely essential they have secure, up-to-date mobiles and a net-book computer to minimise the risk of information getting mislaid.

In contrast councillors’ emails are nowhere near as confidential.  The majority of emails contain information publically available.  Confidential papers are not generally sent by email; they are couriered to each councillor.  Any emails of a confidential nature omit names, referring instead to initials, for example to “Mrs B” to prevent identification. 

Reading’s Labour Group has failed to come up with a single example of an authority being fined because of a councillor’s email going astray.

During 26th March council meeting, my colleague Cllr Andrew Cumpsty asked the Leader of the Council if she could confirm what percentage of IT kit was recycled.  Cllr Lovelock admitted that only 30% of laptops and netbooks were pre-used equipment.  This was interesting as at February’s meeting she had stated that the equipment was mostly (70%) recycled!

Instead of an apology for having misled Council, Labour’s Leader attacked Cllr Cumpsty for “putting his own convenience above the need to protect sensitive data.”  She continued that “this has gone on for long enough and he needs to understand that there has to be a date by which any insecure method of sending e-mails to Councillors will be stopped – quite simply Cllr Cumpsty will very soon be unable to access Council e-mails unless he takes up one of the solutions on offer.  He will be cut off by his own stubborn adherence to his own convenience.  I would advise him to think about how to avoid that.

Labour’s vicious attack on an opposition councillor is nothing new.  When their group loses an argument they regularly resort to this tactic.  Whenever members of the public witness such behaviour they are shocked to the core.

We opposition councillors nurse our “wounds” consoling ourselves that these are evidence of voicing the winning argument against Labour.   However the lack of respect and dignity the Labour Group shows to opposition councillors is detrimental to democratic debate and hinders the service to Reading’s residents for which we were all elected.  

I struggle to understand why Labour prioritise the provision of IT equipment for councillors over giving social workers up-to-date IT equipment. The £10,653 expenditure on IT equipment for councillors would have been much better spent on IT equipment for social workers, or even towards mending some of Reading’s pothole ridden roads.

Delaying councillors accessing emails by stopping automatic forwarding will obviously impede our ability to help residents quickly and efficiently.

It will all be down to Labour’s phoney argument.