Last week, the Government promised “a quantum leap of transparency” in public services. Good! A bane of my life as a campaigns officer is trying to get information from public bodies, particularly around services for deaf children.
Much of the time, I ask for fairly basic information – like how many deaf children are known to the council and how many Teachers of the Deaf they employ. Sometimes I ask for something fairly important – has there been a reduction in funding for help for deaf children.
Parents of deaf children are taxpayers too. They need and want this information in order to decide what support is best for their child. Yet I hardly ever come across any local authorities that proactively provides this information to parents.
However, I do come across lots of local authorities that refuse to provide this information until legally required to do so under a Freedom of Information Act request. There are a handful that drag their feet.
I’m getting very grumpy to keep reading complaints from councils that someone had the audacity to ask them to provide information about themselves. Then I get even grumpier when I read the lame excuses. Some have attempted to justify a refusal to provide information on the basis that the information is too complicated and “open to interpretation”. In other words, parents of deaf children won’t understand it, even if the council took the time to explain the context. Others have complained that the data will be “misused”. In other words, the information might be used to hold the public service to account to see if they are doing a good a job as they can to help deaf children. Scandalous.
Parents of deaf children are being patronised by people whose job it is to serve them. If NDCS, a national charity, finds it hard to get this information, even with the force of the Freedom of Information Act behind it, how easy are parents of deaf children going to fare when trying to find out about help for their deaf child?
The stupidity is compounded when you think that this kind of information could be used by parents and campaigning organisations to campaign for better support for deaf children – i.e. more funding.
A quantum leap of transparency can’t come soon enough to end the arrogance of those that think they shouldn’t have to be held to account to parents of deaf children.