Cabinet Office: correspondence chaos

It’s all a bit rum. Back in December I put in a complaint via the Cabinet Office website about Gordon Brown. It was a pretty minor issue – using government letterhead for partisan purposes – but given how stringent the rules imposed on other bodies around the country, it seemed to me worth all of oooh 30 seconds to make the point of principle.

But I got no reply. And I don’t like that sort of thing…

So I sent another message via their website. And got no reply.

So I wrote a letter. And got no reply.

So I wrote to my MP, who then wrote to the Cabinet Office. He got a reply saying the query had been passed on to the Prime Minister’s Office, but then heard nothing further.

So I asked him to write to the Prime Minister, which he did. And got no reply.

So I asked him to write again to the Cabinet Office (because I wanted to know why they hadn’t replied to me despite three times of asking – and, who knows, maybe there is a problem with their website they should know about and fix). He did. And got no reply.

So I asked him to write again to the Cabinet Office, which again he did. And got no reply.

Tally so far: two emails and one letter from me plus four letters from my MP spread out over nine months and what to show for it all? Just one holding reply saying the issue had been passed on.

(Conspiracy theorists may at this point wish to mutter how implausible it is that seven times correspondence has been missed out and it just goes to show I’ve really stumbled on some secret plot to subvert our democracy with letterhead abuse.)

So I thought this time I’d try submitting a request under the Data Protection Act. After all, surely someone, somewhere will have some record of even one of these pieces of correspondence?

But no. Despite the Data Protection Act placing a legal obligation to properly answer my request for copies of any correspondence involving me, I’ve been told no trace has been found of anything by the Cabinet Office.

Every email and letter appears to have disappeared into thin air, along with any knock-on internal correspondence generated by them. Not even one internal email saying, “We’ve had another letter about that Pack. Anyone know what we did with the last one?”

They’ve not even found a copy of the one letter to which they did reply. Pretty impressive to reply to a letter that you now say you don’t have.

And they’ve not even found a copy of their own one reply. Now that’s classy.

(One aside: the data protection person I’ve spoken to about this was very helpful and is now going to hunt further. But that’s not really the point.)

It’s just possible I suppose that the Cabinet Office is terribly efficient in every other way and the only correspondence it’s lost is everything to do with me. But isn’t it more likely that this highlights a correspondence and record keeping system that is in chaos?

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  • In the light of Baroness Uddin claiming Lords Allowances to live in Social Housing, while owning another house, I wrote to Gordon Brown to ask him whether he thought Baroness Uddin was a fit and proper person to be a Labour Peer. I enclosed a copy of the article I wrote about it for Inside Housing (google Inside Housing Leunig Uddin). Mr Brown has not written back. I wrote again. Mr Brown has not replied.

    I don’t think Mr Brown likes awkward letters…

  • Alix Mortimer 18th Sep '09 - 12:20pm

    Bernard: Shall I file the petition?
    Jim Hacker: File it? Shred it!
    Bernard: Shred it?
    Jim Hacker: Yes, we must make sure no-one ever finds it again.
    Bernard: In that case, Minister, perhaps we should file it.

  • Spirit of St. Grimon 18th Sep '09 - 1:25pm

    Spot on Alix. In a previous job I worked for the Rural Payments Agency and that was definatley my experience.

  • David Heigham 18th Sep '09 - 4:22pm

    When I first joined the Civil Service in the 1960s, it had the best filing system I have ever encountered. When i left in the 1990s it was still there. Is Civil Service filing another thing that New labour have messed about and ruined?

  • Lang Rabbie 18th Sep '09 - 9:44pm

    Since the Cabinet Office “restructured” a couple of years ago, i.e. gave all the experienced if plodding staff early retirement and hoped that the remaining “fast streamers” would do their own filing it has been an utterly dysfunctional organisation with no corporate memory.

  • Sir Humphrey 22nd Sep '09 - 4:58pm

    Jim Hacker: “What am I going to do with all this correspondence?”

    Bernard Woolley: “You do realize you don’t actually have to, Minister.”

    Jim Hacker: “Don’t I?”

    Bernard Woolley: “Not if you don’t want to, we can draft an official reply.”

    Jim Hacker: “What’s an official reply?”

    Bernard Woolley: “It just says The Minister has asked me to thank you for your letter and we say something like The matter is under consideration, or even if we feel so inclined under active consideration.”

    Jim Hacker: “What’s the difference?”

    Bernard Woolley: “Well, under consideration means we’ve lost the file, under active consideration means we’re trying to find it.”

  • Why on earth are you waisting an MP’s time chasing up something you descibe as a bit rum.

  • Malcolm Tucker 23rd Sep '09 - 8:54am

    “The Cabinet Office appears to be in breach of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 section 10 Time for compliance with request”

    Except that he hasn’t put in an FoI request, he’s asked for information about himself under the Data Protection Act. And how would you know whether the timelimit has been breached even it was an FoI? He doesn’t give any details of when the information was requested! It could have been two days ago for all you know.

  • julie harpum 30th Nov '10 - 5:51am

    think it would be appropriate to have a complete restructuring of the house of lords and instead of the current mishmash of hereditary peers, bishops, and life peers to have people from the regions, sort of “senators” or regional governors for example of yorkshire, birmingham, northumberland etc to give a voice to people who have at present been pushed to the margins by the politicalisation of the house of lords .. this restructuring would bring the government closer to the people and make a more professional job of the upper house .. julie harpum retired france


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  • By Cabinet Office: correspondence chaos update on Wed 21st October 2009 at 11:51 am.

    […] in September I blogged about how difficult it’s been to get a response from the Cabinet Office to a small complaint I had about possible misuse of letterheads by Gordon […]

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