A new culture of openness ?
Posted August 10, 2010on:
…..as implied by Andrew Brown , newly appointed ‘head of GLOW’ at LTS, last year when talking about the challenges facing the Scottish schools intranet project. A radical departure for LTS. A brave new world indeed. And in the spirit of this supposed new era to be ushered in by Andrew, I asked him to publish the success criteria and quality indicators by which GLOW was evaluated. After asking for thinking time, he went quiet on the subject and failed to respond to subsequent reminders made in this place and others. So nothing new there from LTS then….
Now as someone who has worked on GLOW since it’s roll out to early-adopter authorities, and published research evaluating the potential role of GLOW in raising attainment, I have a continuing interest in this project and particularly, in the amount of money being spent by our government on this and future iterations. In fact, I’m currently engaged in working on papers resulting from my full research study. And as Andrew blanked all reminders for the above information, I decided to attempt to obtain it, and other financial data using a series of Freedom of Information requests. So already, a reluctance to engage in discussion about this part of the GLOW supremo’s remit starts to lead to (unnecessary) costs to LTS ( and thus the taxpayer) engendered by the formal exercise of complying with my request.
The following request was duly submitted (with others – more on them in another post) on April 26th this year…
WHAT are Glow quality / performance INDICATORS?
LTS replied as follows…..
As managing agent for the Glow contract on behalf of the Scottish Government, LTS measure the following contractual items:
1. Availability – a number of key component services are measured under a service level agreement against up time.
2. Uptake – the number of user stakeholder organisations that have signed the customer agreement
3. Usage – the number of logged on users
Impact – from 2009 an impact survey is conducted annually to gauge what impact Glow is having on its stakeholders
Suitably vague then – no surprises here. So curious, as I am, and wondering just what exactly the ‘key component services’ are, I asked for further information from LTS, again using an FOI request. I asked….
“Availability – a number of key component services are measured under a service level agreement against up time”. Could you be more specific as to which component services these are please?”
Astoundingly, bearing in mind that this is a public sector contract funded by the taxpayers and government, LTS tried to avoid revealing just how they evaluate GLOW. They replied…
The information that you requested is held by Learning and Teaching Scotland. However we consider it to be exempt from disclosure under section 33(1)(b) Commercial interests and the economy of the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 because its disclosure would, or would be likely to, prejudice substantially the commercial interests of RM. The disclosure of this information would prejudice them in future competitive actions and would be likely to cause them significant harm.
The exemption under section 33(1)(b) Commercial interests and the economy which we have applied to this information is non-absolute so we have also applied the ‘public interest’ test. This means we have, in all circumstances of this case, considered if the public interest in disclosing the information outweighs the exemption. We have found that, on balance, the public interest lies in favour of upholding the exemption. We recognise that there is a public interest in having transparent processes. On the other hand, if commercially sensitive information is made public, it is likely to deter companies from tendering with Learning and Teaching Scotland. This, in turn, could mean that Learning and Teaching Scotland may be unable to generate genuine and effective competitive tendering processes, and that, in our view, would not be in the public interest.
So LTS consider the evaluation of the success or not, of GLOW to be sensitive information which might just harm their reputation and that of RM if revealed. Well forgive me for being cynical but that’s just a bit rich ! If RM and LTS are failing in their management of GLOW, then this information needs to be made public, and that overrides any so-called commercial consideration of RM’s feelings… if they can’t deliver, then they, nor any other private sector company contracted to undertake work have no business being awarded projects like GLOW and if this is the case, and GLOW is not performing when measured against these key component service availability benchmarks, then questions need to be asked about the LTS management of the GLOW project. Perhaps by the Scottish parliamentary education committee might be the forum for this…
Needless to say, I requested a review of this decision by a senior LTS official. LTS state in their code of practice for dealing with FOI requests that such reviews will be carried out within 20 days of their being received. This task fell to the LTS director of Corporate services, who after 20 days, went away on leave without completing the review, and after asking for more time before departing leaving my reply to his request unread and unanswered. It took a further email stating my intention to have the matter referred to the Information commissioner to goad LTS, in the guise of the Director of Learning and Technology, Marie Dougan, into compliance and deliver the somewhat delayed review on behalf of LTS. She replied…
“Following your request for LTS to undertake a review of the decision not to disclose information contained within the Service Level Agreement, LTS has sought legal advice as to whether such information can be provided. It has been determined that the key components of service that are measured under the Service Level Agreement can be disclosed.
‘Availability’ is assessed under the Service Level Agreement by measuring end user access to the following key components:
· Glow Meet;
· SSDN-NI Sign on service (the Glow Sign-On service);
· The end user personal page;
· The VLE (Glow Learn); and
· Email account (Glow Mail).
You may also find the following explanations of these key components helpful: “
The Director of Learning and Technology then gave me a description of each of the GLOW components listed above – just in case I was unfamiliar with them. Talk about knowing your brief and the use of ‘standard reply letters’ !!!
So there we have it…LTS were afraid to have the criteria by which the GLOW project is judged made public. And it took a series of formal requests, answered at no small cost to the public purse to have this important and very relevant information released. All because a promise of openness and transparency, made after many rumblings across the country about the secrecy surrounding the GLOW project development failed to materialise when it involved anything more than the most anodyne of conversations. Maybe a complaint to Audit Scotland with regard to a possible misuse of public funds might be appropriate.
Just what exactly, I wonder, are they afraid of ? if it’s public scrutiny and being held to account, then that’s a shame, because I have many more questions regarding the operation of this project, and the Quango in general ( including a little more about the first class rail travel habits of it’s bosses messrs. McLeary and Mulgrew as well as one or two others).
My next FOI request will be to ask for the actual measurements of availability/end user access data for each of these key component services over the past three years. I’m interested in what improvements in availability there have been after the millions of pounds that have been spent, and the huge ongoing costs of GLOW (including travel and subsistence costs of £80,039 for the year 2009/10). This information should be used to inform national debate by the wider public both on the merits of the GLOW project, any future iterations of the national intranet, and indeed the value for money which the taxpayer may or not get from the millions of pounds it costs to maintain Learning and Teaching Scotland in an age of increasingly scarce education funding. After the BECTA shut down in England, many will question the future of such an organisation in Scotland and it’s coat may very well be hanging on a shoogly nail some time soon.
So, my questions is…. will LTS rise to the challenge, save unnecessary spending of public money, and make this information freely available ? I’m not holding my breath, but it would be nice to get the info soon, just in case LTS should indeed fall under Swinney’s financial axe next year in the same way that BECTA did so recently in England….