THOUSANDS in Swindon were sent letters telling them they weren’t entitled to vote because of a mistake by Swindon Borough Council’s contractors.
That is what the local authority’s chief executive Susie Kemp told a member of the public who asked for details in a Freedom of Information request.
This is revealed despite attempts by the council to not publicly blame its partner, Civica Election Services, before last month’s general election.
According to documents on whatdotheyknow.com John Smith made a request under the FOI act asking what was the process the council followed when supplying voter lists to Civica. He also wanted to know whether it has contacted the Information Commissioner’s Office conserving possible breaches of data protection when the 3,000 letters were sent in error.
The response from Ms Kemp tells Mr Smith that while she is the council’s chief executive, she is also the electoral registration officer – and her duties in that role are exempt from the FOI act.
But, she adds: “ I can confirm that the correct data file was sent in relation to the letter dated November 4 and the error was made by the printer merging the letter with a separate data file.”
Previously, internal council emails revealed under FOI show the authority’s head of elections Matt Box saying there was a degree of culpability at Euclid Street.
He said: “I hasn’t escaped my notice that ultimately this could have been avoided with proper proofing our end, and this will be taken up internally.”
Of the mistake by Civica that a correct list of names to receive the letter was sent to the specialist election company, he said: “From what I have ascertained an entirely different data file was them merged at their end to create the letters and mail them out.”
Mr Box was at pains to avoid “unnecessary and counter-productive finger pointing” as Civica had been a very good partner up to that point, and there was still a general election to run.
Those emails also show Ms Kemp agreed to have Mr Box sign the letters of apology sent out the day after in order to deflect criticism of her personally.
In her response to Mr Smith’s request Ms Kemp said the council had not referred itself to the watchdog.
She said: “The council does not intend to self-report to the ICO. Only if there will be a risk to people and their rights and freedoms should we notify the ICO and if it is unlikely, we do not have to report.”
She added the council’s information governance manager had recorded the letters as a data protection incident, and the council awaits “a report detailing the results of the print company’s investigation, identified process improvements and outcomes once it is complete.”