Councillors and Mobile Phones

In 2002 the Local Government Auditor took a case against Newry and Mourne District Council in relation to the practice of reimbursing Councillors for the costs of their mobile phones, claiming that there was no authority for councils to do so. This, understandablly, sent most other local councils into somewhat of a tizzy. Belfast City Council, for example, changed their policy to only reimburse calls made directly to the switchboard at City Hall.

It took until late 2005 for the case to come to trial, and the Auditor’s view won out. I was curious as to what correspondence there was between the Auditor and other councils in light of this, so requested copies of all relevant correspondence from Belfast City Council.

Unfortunately I only received a single letter from the Chief Local Government Auditor setting out the position in light of the ruling. It looks like it was sent to all councils, but it doesn’t really tell me anything I didn’t already know.

I’m not sure whether there’s more information that I didn’t properly request or this really is the extent of it. I can’t decide if that means I need to be more precise or less precise in future requests! That’s one of the problems with FoI. Although authorities are meant to provide you assistance on finding the information you’re looking for, the more precise you are, the more they’re likely to assume you know what you want and provide only what you specify. However, the more vague you are, the more wiggle room there is if they want to skip over something!

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