An email to my MP asking whether I should complain about the Communities PR team to the minister or head of the Civil Service elicited a response, at last.
I called Matthew Gorman there on 15 December. I asked for the amount of council tax collected and the cost of collecting it, plus the amount of council tax benefit paid and the cost of paying it. I was given this information ten years earlier by the predecessor department for an article in the Guardian.
The following day, having heard nothing, I emailed. The day after that, having still not heard a peep, I emailed again saying: “Sorry but our website is called dailyfinance.co.uk. I had rather hoped for an answer the same day (as I got from HMRC).”
Moment had passed
By this time the idea of following up the rise in council tax buried in the pre-budget report was beginning to drift. I chased it up again in January with another press officer, Sian Williams. She said to forward the emails to her. I did that on 8 January. I still heard nothing.
On 18 January – it was, by then, getting close to the time when councils set the coming year’s council tax – I spoke to another press officer, Elisabeth Adlington. She said to email her and Matthew Gorman again. Guess what? I heard nothing.
So the following day – a good 24 hours later – I forwarded it again to everyone who had not responded and their bosses in the department. My message read simply: “Any response from anyone would be at least civil. Any returning of calls, replying to emails, anything.” That was about 4pm
Man in charge
Lester Posner runs the local government desk. He replied three hours later to us all saying” “We should be providing some kind of response rather than leaving this hanging. Matthew – can you put this question to council tax officials in the first instance.” I said: “thanks”.
You will, by now, have seen a theme developing. Perhaps like me, you are starting to imagine what useless incompetents they employ in government press offices. So have you guessed what happened next? You’d be right: nobody replied.
Email to my MP
So, today, three days after the boss told Matthew Gorman to get off his lazy backside, I sent this to my MP, copying in all those press officers and the general secretary of the NUJ, Jeremy Dear.
Dear Ms Ruddock,
As my MP, could you please help me by finding out how I go about making a formal complaint about both individual government press officers and a whole press office department.
I have been asking the Communities press office for some very basic information since 15 December, as you can see from the forwarded email. I would have had the information by now had I made a Freedom of Information request.
I wanted the information at the time as it would have been a follow up to the Chancellor’s pre-budget statements. It might be timely again now as Council tax rates are being set.
When I asked for this information ten years ago I received it immediately, for this article in the Guardian http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2001/mar/28/guardiansocietysupplement.localgovernment
I wish to make a formal complaint about the press officers involved and the department itself. Do I complain direct to the minister or to the head of the civil service? Can you raise this issue for me please?
I sent that at 9.26 this morning. AT 9.41 Lester Posner phoned and apologised. He emailed that at 10.02 and by 12.20 he sent through three of the four pieces of information I had requested. I still await the total amount of council tax collected. Does it have to be this way?