There is a bit of a rumpus going on among some sections of the chattering classes today as the Daily Mail asks a number of questions about a shadowy freemasonry called 'Common Purpose'. Ostensibly a 'leadership' training provider, the organisation has long been of interest because it leeches so much money from the public sector by commanding eye-watering fees for its 'training sessions'. It is however unusual for a mainstream media organisation to spend so much serious effort to show the extent of the network's alleged activities in subverting our country's institutions and secretly placing its left wing 'alumni' into positions of power.

The Daily Mail's beef is mainly about the Leveson inquiry and how a supposedly independent process seems to have been influenced, if not actually secretly hi-jacked by such folk.

There are some concerns in some circles that the far left organisation (its founders were former Communists) has also infiltrated Waltham Forest Council, as well as our local Labour Party.

I do not for one minute think that there is a red under every bed in Waltham Forest Council as a result of this group's activities. Or at least, that there are any more of them than we would have had anyway sitting around in the Town Hall and fantasizing about being in the vanguard of the revolution if Common Purpose hadn't come along to 'train' them in its particular form of anti-democratic hockum.

Nor do I think the organisation has been pulling all the strings behind the scenes at our council - much of the corruption and incompetance is simply that, corruption and incompetance and has been with us for many years.

But it is interesting that someone asking questions about the extent of local taxpayers' money which has been channeled to Common Purpose from our local authority has apparently not had his request for information dealt with fully and promptly by the council. If no money had been spent on staff or councillors going on such courses, a simple letter saying 'none' could have been provided in a matter of seconds. Or if they had sent, say, four or five people to a seminar, again, it should not have taken whoever co-ordinates paying for such training more than a few minutes to give a reply.

One is left wondering therefore what should be read into the handling of the letter that on 5 November 2011, a gentleman by the name of Mike Scott wrote, via a website called 'What do they know', to ask the council the following:

"Dear Waltham Forest Borough Council,

Can you supply all information on how many council employees have
been on common purpose training courses. Can you supply the full
cost to the the council of these courses and the names of the
courses undertaken. Can you also supply details of whether
Councillor Clyde Loakes undertook a common purpose course and
whether this was funded through the council and how much was spent.

Yours faithfully,

mike scott"

His letter was acknowledged two days later:

Our ref: FOI 2011-00641
Your ref:
Date: 7 November 2011

Dear Mr Mike Scott

Freedom of Information Request

I acknowledge receipt of your request on 7 November 2011.

I have logged your request under our reference number FOI 2011-00641 and referred it to Human Resources for a response.

In accordance with the Freedom of Information Act, the Council has 20 working days in which to respond to your request. Therefore, a written response will be sent to you on or by 5 December 2011.

I am enclosing overleaf some information about your right to a review of the Council’s response, which I hope you will find useful.

I hope this information is of assistance to you.

Yours sincerely

Marlon Guildford
Information Officer

Over a year on, Mr Scott still does not seem to have received a substantive response to his simple request. Yet his was not a silly question. It is already possible to learn on the internet that on 31st March 2009, two people from Waltham Forest, Lynn Rackley (a "Member Services Manager" in the "Directorate of Governance and Law") and Clyde Loakes, were reportedly present at a meeting of the London Member Development Network (LMDN), whereat one Andrea Cooper gave a presentation. It is not clear what the actual presentation involved but there was some sort of a pitch for the spending of taxpayers' money on Common Purpose, as the blurb for the meeting explains:

"Common Purpose – Andrea Cooper, Operational Director:

The presentation covered Common Purpose’s aims and impact since its foundation in 1989. It has a network of 12,000 Leaders. It is about to facilitate a 6-month non-accredited development programme on pan London issues from June-November and costs £4,500 per placement. Participants would commit to 3 days on each course which includes action learning sets. The cohort is around 70 participants with groups of 20 or 25 at any one time and these could also accommodate some 10 councillors."

So, in the spirit of helpfulness for which this blog is renowned, may I politely suggest that whoever is supposed to be fulfilling the council's legal obligations and answering Mr Scott's letter might like to try to get some of the information they require from Mr Loakes or Ms Rackley?

In so doing, they may also wish to wonder how accurate is the reply to a similar request made by Mr. P Walcott on the 13th July 2010 which elicited this response from the council:

our Ref: 63912
your Ref:
date: 9th August 2010

Dear Woolcott,

Re: Request for Information

I am writing in response to your requests for information under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (‘FOIA’) both of which we received on 13th July 2010. Pursuant to the provision of the Freedom of Information and Data Protection (Appropriate Limit and Fees) Regulation 2004, we have aggregated your requests as they are for similar information and made within 60 working days.

The wording of your request was as follows:

How many Waltham Forest council employees have attended Common Purpose courses?

How much has Waltham Forest Borough Council spent on sending its employees on Common Purpose courses?

I can confirm that the Assistant Chief Executive was a delegate at the Common Purpose London Autumn Matrix held in 2006 and a sum of £4,641.25 (£3,950.00 plus VAT £691.25) was paid for this.
The Council holds no more information in this regard.

I trust that this satisfies your request sufficiently, however, if you require further information, please do not hesitate to contact me. Under FOIA, you have the right to request a review of the Council’s response to your request for information. If you have such a review request, you may contact the:

Corporate Information Officer
Room 1
Waltham Forest Town Hall
E17 4JF
Tel- 020 84964334

within 28 days of the date of this letter. If you remain unsatisfied with the outcome of that review, you may seek further recourse by lodging an appeal with the Information Commissioner.

Yours Sincerely,

Temi Akindele
for Director of Governance & Law