Given the information we now have from the FOIs, Tracy Mayo from Mull wrote to Cllr McNeilly who is the policy lead for education asking her a number of reasonable questions. I have reproduced the reply from Cllr McNeilly below. It doesn’t look to me as though she wrote it and I suspect I know who did. Nonetheless, the councillors’s name is at the foot of it so it becomes her reply. I have annotated the reply.
Dear Ms Mayo
Thank you for your emails below. I am sorry to note that you are concerned about the contents of the attachments which have been released in response to an information request.
I don’t intend picking up on all the observations you have made (ie I am not replying to everything even though you asked me to) on these documents but would like to make the following comments, which I hope you will find useful.
Firstly, I would like to reiterate comments I have previously made on the consultation process in that I fully support the work that has been undertaken by Officers to deliver this extensive exercise. ( Not a wise thing to have said. ) I would also like to clarify that as Policy Lead for Education I have been fully briefed on the proposals, as referenced in the documents, and on an ongoing basis. ( This means she knew all along what was going on, including the material released under FOI. This admission may come back to bite her later. ) Briefings and workshops on the proposals were also extended to all Policy Leads and the wider Councillor group ( Does she mean all administration councillors? This is at best a careless use of language that appears to make every councillor party to not disclosing key information to the public. I suspect there will be plenty of councillors very unhappy with what she is saying here. )
With reference to the documentation in general, I note that the majority of these are working documents prepared by Officers from the inception of the Education Transformation Project, through to the current position, which illustrates that the scope of the project and the proposals have changed somewhat since 2019. ( Indeed. Any major project will change as time goes on but you would expect changes to be documented in project reports, but that is NOT the case. ) As part of any project it is usual practice for Officers to consider various options, and potential costs and savings. The development of the proposals over the past few years by educational professionals, which cumulated in a report to the June 2021 Community Services Committee and the subsequent consultation exercise undertaken from November to March, have shown that the model is in fact cost neutral ( So, what happened, why and when, to move the initial savings of £675k to a point where it is cost neutral? and a number of the original assumptions have ceased to exist. ( Again, you would expect that this would be documented, but that is NOT the case. )
The proposals which were the subject of the recent consultation are representative of the current position and should be our focus moving forward. ( This could be interpreted as forget the FOI material mate. ) The consultation closed at end March and the responses to this are currently in the process of being analysed. ( They are being analysed by the PR company, STAND, whose job it was to sell the concept. As someone else has said, this is a clear case of marking your own homework, ) I will conclude by confirming that the report detailing the outcome of the consultation exercise is due to be submitted to the Community Services Committee scheduled for 25th August and, in accordance with the Council’s established procedures for publishing reports, will be publicly available no later than 7 days prior to that meeting. ( This sound very much like we’re not replying to any more of your queries. )
Cllr Yvonne McNeilly Policy Lead for Education
Having looked through all 13 of the project reports, from 2019 until end April this year, there is not a single mention of changes to the project brief. Why could this be? There really are only 2 options:
1 The council has not released all the information asked for.
2 There have been no changes to the project brief.
It’s hard to see how Cllr McNeilly’s letter is accurate unless 1 above applies. But this was an FOI so if the council has retained information requested, it should have said so and why. The Information Commissioner might have an interest in this.
There is bound to be a need for another post on this debacle.