11th bonfires – what FoI requests cost

In the spirit of these hard times I have also carried out some research into wasted public money on sectarian coat trailing exercises, for example did you know…

“The total cost across central government of dealing with FoI requests is £24.4 million per year.”

“For central government, the average cost of officials’ time for an initial FoI request is approximately £254.”

“Individuals that request information under the FoI Act are entitled to ask for an internal review if that information is withheld from them…. internal reviews are expensive for government departments. On average, an internal reviews costs £1,208 compared to £254 for an initial request, almost five times as much.”

“Serial requestors are those individuals who tend to be experienced users of the Act. Requests from serial requestors to central government take over three hours longer on average than those made by one-off requestors”

“They are a mixture of frivolous requests, disproportionately burdensome requests and requests that are explicitly designed to test the compliance of the Act. A number of examples are provided below.

A request for the total amount spent on Ferrero Rocher chocolates in UK embassies.

A request from a vintage lorry spotter to 387 local authorities for the registration numbers of all vintage lorries held in their stock.

A request for information on a sweater given to President George Bush by No.10.

A request for the number of eligible bachelors in the Hampshire Constabulary between the ages of 35 and 49, their e-mail addresses, salary details and pension values.

A request inquiring into the total cost of Fire engines,  street sweepers and Childrens’ Discos at 11th of July (except when the 11th is a Sunday then the 10th of July) bonfires in Northern Ireland.

A request for statistics and number of reports of sex with sheep and any other animals in Wales during 2003, and, if possible, since records began.”

These are edited (possibly made up too) quotes from a 2006 review of the FoI Act, the full text is available here.


  • lamhdearg

    yea but what about them orange parades en the like they like are worst

  • Drumlins Rock

    I’m sorry LD, I cant allow any “whataboutery” on this thread of “whataboutery” 🙁

    PS, do you think Mick will slap my wrists for posting this?

  • lamhdearg


  • Oracle

    No it is a valid post, however the cost of he FOI request does not alllow for the fact that the majority of civil servants would be sitting on their arse doing nothing anyway.

    If we’re paying them we might as well work them so keep those FOI’s coming guys

  • Drumlins Rock


  • Michael

    Who knows, but posting it you’ve shown that he’s got to you and that you are at a loss to counter.

  • It’s the price of democracy…suck it up DR

  • Drumlins Rock

    Michael, I did the “counter” bit, no point in repeating it in what is basically a repeat post. I don’t really care about bonfires, but I do care about Sectarian bigotry thinly disguised as a concern about public expenditure, maybe this post will help remove the figleaf and expose his anti-bonfire crusade for the petty sectarian vendetta it is.

  • Mick Fealty

    Before I go to bed. The problem lies in the way the data is stored, and the games both sides have to play regarding what can or cannot be revealed. The exemptions are hard to anticipate and almost impossible to get past if someone on the inside does not want you to have it.

    If you ask for something uncontroversial by email, you can get it by the end of the day. I’ve just come to the end of 20 days and have a holding letter saying Senior Management in NI Water are still considering it, which means they’ve not said no, but I should only have to wait for another ten days or so.

    I had it turned down the first time, and responded with precise instructions as to how to do the operation in an automated way so as not to cost them any time at all, and without having to redact.

    Presumably the time they are taking to decide what to do about is adding to Drumlin’s total figure.

    But if they stacked the information in ways that presumed disclosure rather than presumed it was still in a closed system with privileged access, the bills would plummet.

    The Freedom of Information Act was brought in without changing government systems appropriately (instead they adopted a defensive stance to protect the functional closed system they already had). They failed to acclimatise staff to a world in which everything they would write will possibly be forensically pulled apart at some point in the future…

    The NI Water story is the first major FOI scandal in NI’s history. But the proper response is not for civil servants to get paranoid and close in on themselves, because there is nowhere they can hide. But rather to learn to become functional again in a more open environment.

  • Local Government Officer

    DR, these questions are not par for the course, and you well know it. But with all due respect and kudos to Mick, and those others who ask the big questions and then join the dots, it’s the “cost of loos” question, followed two days later by “Shock toilet total revealed! – a special investigation by yadda yadda yadda.”

    Is this what they trained for? Today’s photography “shock exclusive”, for example. A cheap headline and what?

    “Serial requestors are those individuals who tend to be experienced users of the Act.” And thank God – because there’s nothing worse than dealing with a question which isn’t framed properly. Indeed, I would dispute the notion that these queries are more expensive. These people know exactly what they want, and ask accordingly. And that means I (or whoever) can almost immediately put their hands on what’s needed.

    Seriously though, with regard to Mick’s response and as I have written before – a little extra time, some hosting space, a half-decently thought-out indexing system and a wee bit of technical know-how and reams can be online.

    But there’s a halfway house to be found. If we put it online, you have to be prepared to search properly for it. Indeed, if it is done right, all that will be left to request will be emails and letters. And how dull they are going to become. Government – certainly lower levels of it – will end up being run on a nod and a wink.

    On the email note, with regard to this final smoking gun email, I can’t help but think (and I don’t know how central government archiving works) that that there was a certain amount of luck and a big cc list involved.

  • Drumlins Rock claims to have [researched] into wasted public money on sectarian coat trailing exercises. That research amounts to a cut-and-paste from http://www.foi.gov.uk/reference/foi-independent-review.pdf (the Frontier Economics Independent Review of the impact of the Freedom of Information Act (October 2006). Pity he missed an even better example:

    A request for the number of statistics of reported sex with sheep … in Wales …


    Except, and this surely is curious, I find no reference anywhere in the document to Northern Ireland, in any context. Could Drumlins Rock kindly suggest on which page of the report I can find his quotation referring to the 11th bonfires? There is a difference between edited quotes and making-it-up.

  • Alan Maskey

    I, for one, would be interested in th amount of sheep shaggers in Wales. And I am sure the D Mail etc would be too. The lorry spotting thing should be on websites as part of the shires’ goodwill hearts and minds things. The serial requestors could well be dounbg us all a service, though there would have to be cranks there.
    As regards Feroro chocolates: embassies feature highly in the ads and if a British legation is so low class as to be using them, they – and their common choice in chocolates – should be replaced forthwith.
    The cost of Orange fires is important, relevant and quite high. That is worth digging up and reporting on. Polticians should debate it and explain to us whether it is worthwhile or not. It certainly seems like a hard sell in cold numbers.

  • johnny Boy

    What would be the cost in policing the annual disturbances when the authorities try to stop bonfires if they were banned?

    I’m personally not a fan, but they are here to stay, hopefully one day their nature will change.

  • Drumlin Rock

    been caught lol

    I included the sheep one Malcolm, but the funny thing is when I tried to cut and paste it from the original document that text would not hi-light so I had to retype it, therefore I suspect I an not the first person to doctor the report!

  • Chris Donnelly

    Bit sad this one, really Drumlin.

    I have noticed your thread contributions seem to ‘go south’ during the wee small hours of the morning.

    Can’t think of why that is……;>

  • Alan Maskey


    Here are the RBL out protesting against someone having a whizz. At the start of the Troubles, beforte Martin Meehan got into his stride, there were lots of ex British Army guys taking the lead in Ardoyne against hte Protestant fascists. maybe the Ardoyners and the RBL could get together for joint demos.

  • Drumlin Rock

    LGO, I hope no-one thinks im have a swipe at mick, JJ, or any of those who are using the FoI requests in the full and proper way they were intended to be used, and the significance of the whats been uncovered many times out weights the minor costs in these cases.
    What I trying to do is highlight the abuses of FoI by “lazy journalists” looking for a cheap headline, getting someone to do the graft for them so they use their already prepared story and shout “X Y Z cost us millions” without properly researching how these costs were arrived at and the value they provide.
    The previous 2 articles on 11th Night Bonfires are a perfect example of this crap reporting and I wanted to challenge it, if in a somewhat tongue in cheek manner.

  • Drumlin Rock

    your right, the idea was to write a thread as sloppy and lazy as Carks bonfire ones, seems I have failed and people are taking it seriously! ugg
    I have failed 🙁

    PS I was sober, but on the other hand it was after midnight and took about 15 minutes.

  • I’d venture to say that you think it’s “crap reporting” because you don’t like the story DR.
    As Mark has stated he has an awful lot of info and these two blogs are just the beginning. I wouldn’t necessarily agree with everything Mark blogs about but in this case i think it’s actually quite an important bit of work.
    I’m going to wait to see the rest of his blogs before i pass comment, perhaps you should too before making an even bigger fool of yourself with anymore blatantly distracting threads.
    Like it or lump it there is a real cost to the boneys so why not wait till Mark collates it al and shares it with us….seems resonable eh?

  • Drumlin Rock

    Mooch, I would have no problem having a look the whole pro’s and con’s of bonfire, although it not something I have a big interest in.
    But Marks posts are just “Prod Bashing” dressed up to look cost concerns.
    We can all see where hes going “11th NIGHT BONFIRES COST THE NI TAXPAYERS &*%% MILLION IN THE LAST 5 YEARS” a cheap headline which he probably hope some of MSM will pick up on, but tell me has he actually spoke to any fire officers who attended the bonfires? council officials who gave out the grants? and most importantly, has he spoke to any communities that host a bonfire?

  • Drumlin Rock

    PS Mooch, if we are to wait to comment on the whole package, maybe mark should also have waited and put the whole thing together.

  • As we have seen with the NI Water fiasco the sheer volume of information is confusing so to break it down as he has done so makes sense. I for one didn’t really pay much attention to the NIW story because of that.
    Why don’t you ask Mark i don’t know if he has spoken to anyone concerned.

  • There are two distinct issues here:

    1. According to a report by Martin Fricker for the Mirror Group, the Premier League was contributing £10 million for policing, which the ACPO think should be upped four-fold. Individual clubs pay more: last season cost Arsenal £1.4 million. The Greater Manchester Police are alleged to have claimed £2.4 million from the four clubs in their area.

    Yet the boyos on both sides of the Great Divide think the PSNI (and therefore the Great Taxpaying Public) should be subsidizing their fun and frolics. I see a FoI request for those costs to be quite a valid exercise.

    2. I respect Slugger O’Toole and what Mick Fealty and others have created here over many years. There is a place for irony, and even for spoofery (April 1st jumps to mind). What is not acceptable, at least to me, is exploiting the invitation to be a headpiece writer, and concocting a provocative farrago, based on a blatant untruth and misrepresentation.

    And, yes, I am being prim, proper, and po-faced about it.

  • padraig

    Some things you cannot put a price tag on for they pearls beyond price.

    Rubbing the Fenians noses in it and doing a poper summer long job of it happens to be one of those things.

  • Drumlin Rock

    Malcolm, in case you havn’t noticed Premier League football is a multi Billion Pound Industry, plus most of the costs of parades are to do with the protests and not the actual parades, things should evolve to the point where most of the rest of the marshalling is carried out by the organisers, if the threats of abuse and attack are removed.

    However this has nothing to do with either threads!

    I have great respect for Mick and Slugger, and if he were to pull this thread I would not object, but I felt it was the best way to hi-light the petty sectarian nature of Marks anti bonfire crusade.

  • Jay

    Drumlins Rock – your credibility is vanishing fast.
    People in a democracy have a right to know where their money is being spent.
    An absolute right to know – end of ,period.

    Your attempts to stifle the right to that knowledge seems a little crazy if I’m being mild to downright thuggish.
    “Uppity fenians, don’t ask questions it costs money you know “

  • Mark McGregor

    As this is directed at me, can I point out the vast majoirty of those that responded were just pasting in material from minuted meetings or reports they already had that aren’t in the public domain.

    Many also forwarded copies of internal reports etc. way beyond what I asked for which had the information I wanted.

    Only one council that replied found the request too costly.

    In most instances council officers were more than helpful and willing to provide information without a FoI request.

    Even if there are costs involved in obtaining this information I’m surprised that seeking to find out overall financial commitment to a contentious event is an issue.

  • Well done DR. Increasingly lost the will on Slugger, and check in less and less. Thought MMCG’s exercise at the Twelfth in 2009 was one to try to understand another’s culture, but clearly back in comfort zone.

  • Mark McGregor


    What you really mean is you had no problem with me expending time and energy on looking at one aspect of loyalist culture but will gurn like feck when I examine an aspect that doesn’t fit your world view.

    Last year I gave the parades a chance. This year I’m wasting my time costing bonfires.

    Don’t know what if anything it’ll be next year but swings and roundabouts my man.

  • I really don’t care how you spend your time. Knock youself out. There is a qualitative difference in how you have approached the subject year on year, and that is the subject of my comment. You might have missed that in projecting your idea of what I was saying.

  • USA

    Establishing the costs to the community of bonfires and orange parades would seem a perfectly valid exercise to me. This FOI thread by Drumlin is daft.

  • Secret Squirrel

    “Only one council that replied found the request too costly.”

    Perhaps they envisaged having to retype the original documents again because their text might not hi-light.

  • Drumlin Rock

    not if his motivation is purely to have a swipe at “the other side” and by focusing his attention on purely on “11th Night” bonfires it is obviously the case, in the Northern Ireland context that is usually called Sectarian and Bigoted.

    (expanded after Mooches comment below)

  • You might want to re phrase that last comment DR

  • Kevin Barry

    I disagree here DR. You may be having some kind of vendetta or hissy fit with MMcG but seeing as every bit of public expenditure is being scanned through with a fine tooth comb I do not see why we should not also be looking at how costs related to bonfires that come from public expenditure are being spent and how much of it could be avoided if the organisers would act responsibly.

    Though not a fan of the OO or related bonfires, if people want to have them, be my guest, I couldn’t really care. If MMcG wants to have a swipe at “the other side” he’s perfectly entitled to; have a look at most slugger threads, it’s full of whataboutery (hateful phrase) and one up manship and if he’s highlighting a part of a community’s culture that is particularly controversial that has public money spent on consequences that can be avoided then deal with it.

    My own opinion, I do think that if tax payers money is to be spent on something such as resurfacing roads destroyed thanks to these bomb fires then a concerted effort needs to be made to try and minimise this expense by investing in sites specifically designed for these events. Also, it may make then a better spectacle and minimise any health and safety concerns.

    Your thread is seen by many as pitiful and petty for a very good reason, it is.