Campbell’s soup

I guess it’s a sign of the times, comrades, a feature of the weird sort of world that we have made for ourselves – but twice in the space of eight months, I have found myself on the wrong end of a request made under the Freedom of Information Act.

 Your long-suffering blogger has never been known to be all that shy when it comes to spilling the beans – one would expect nothing less from a former hack – and there’s nothing terribly private or confidential about the comings and goings up the Hill. But there’s something about such bureaucratic, strongarm tactics that gets my goat.

The first demand was last year. I won’t rehearse the tiresome details, but suffice to say that I got involved a spat with a truly ghastly little woman who is not a tenant at all – a squatter no less – who appeared to believe that she had all manner of rights which did not exist at all. She moaned about me to just about everyone and anyone who would listen – the police, the People’s Republic, her MP, you name it – all of whom did absolutely nothing at all as she hadn’t got a case.

I was, however, obliged to account for my conduct, which I did by way of a written report to the site committee, copied to the Republic, which was then subject to a request for disclosure by the poison dwarf under the FOI Act. Had she asked me nicely, I would have sent her a copy without any fuss or bother, but alas, a polite request was beyond her and the maximum amount of  fuss and bother was her chief priority.

The second case popped up this week, and what a curious one it was (I have been roundly ticked off for what follows – see comments below – and I have also deleted a somewhat gratuitous swipe at the foot of this post).

However, there’s no need to be in the least bit coy about it as this lady has got form – and lots of it. Her name is Margaret Campbell and she appears to have some sort of obsessive compulsive disorder. Google her and FOI and you’ll see what I mean (see screenshot). She appears to be a major disciple of an web-based operation called What Do They Know and seems to have made it her business to trawl the country, demanding to know all manner of things about allotments and waiting lists, the answers to which are already well known and understood. This, however, has not dissuaded Ms Campbell from making no fewer than 1,450 such requests of exactly the same nature. Bizarre.

Here she is, in all her 1,450 very similar guises

Here she is, in all her 1,450 very similar guises

And what information was I obliged to supply? Nothing private, secret or contentious – simply the number of people on the Shepherds Hill waiting list (the answer, since you ask, is 93). And what else was she after? The number of sites across the borough, the total number of plots, the size of the waiting lists, whether any of them are closed, along with details of new sites and the number of plots on each (Ha! Ha!).

Tell I’m wrong here comrades, but how tedious is this? Does she get paid for doing this? And what conclusions does she hope to draw? There is only one – that we can’t meet demand because there aren’t enough plots to go round. Would anyone care to email Ms Campbell and tell her that?

So what’s the crack then? Could it be that Ms Campbell gets a kick out of eliciting useless information from officialdom in a somewhat officious and overbearing way? Or is she on some sort of mission to shame local authorities into spending a load of money that they haven’t got to set aside a load of spare land that they haven’t got in the interests of expanding allotment provision nationwide? A fine objective, no doubt – it’s just that what most people want is yet more retail parks (or a roof over their heads. Delete as appropriate).

One way or another, I’m sure she deserves a medal. But I’m not sure exactly what for. But then again, when the gongs are being dished out, I’m not sure what it’s going to say on mine either.

What a tangled web we weave.

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Categories: Allotment blog, Allotments, Gardening, Horticulture | Tags: | 5 Comments

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5 thoughts on “Campbell’s soup

  1. Jane Shallice

    BRILLIANT BRUNO. Keep sending your notes on to others – hope that ‘s not yet illegal, but even if it is I doubt I shall stop.

    Happy New Year to you, although it seems as though its the “happy ” old one yet today the sun was shining !

    jane

  2. Richard Wiltshire

    Margaret’s results are published in partnership with the National Allotments Society, and are actually taken as authoritative by the Department for Communities (and others) as the most reliable source of information on total undersupply of allotments across the country. If the scale of the problem is “well known”, that’s mostly down to Margaret. An apology might be in order …

    • OK. We’ll call that shooting from the hip then. I apologise. However, I would still be interested to know what exactly is going to happen to all these results. If they lead to any meaningful change at all in the provision of allotments, which I doubt, then the apology will be accompanied by several rounds of beers. Bruno

      • Richard Wiltshire

        They are regularly published: try http://www.transitiontownwestkirby.org.uk/files/ttwk_nsalg_survey_2011.pdf
        They regularly inform policy discussions at the national level (within government and the media) about provision: try this in the Grauniad (who get the NSALG’s URL wrong, naturally: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2011/jul/10/allotment-waiting-lists-green-living). Historically, however, these data have been of limited use for London, because so many sites are under devolved management, so local authorities don’t have a complete picture they can report on. Trying to get such data direct from devolved sites is a sensible step to rectify this. As to whether anything changes, that depends on whether local activists make use of the data to back their claims for more provision, as under the law the responsibility for provision rests entirely with the lowest tier of local authority. And in London, of course, we have the added complexity that the local authorities that were formerly ILEA members are under no legal obligation to provide allotments anyway (thanks to the 1963 London Government Act), so can safely ignore evidence of unmet demand.

  3. Glad to see my former employer maintaining the traditional standards of accuracy. And glad to welcome non-facile, non-jaundiced comments from someone who knows what they’re talking about too. We live in hope. And when the balloon finally goes up, perhaps that hope will be realised.

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