Lazy BBC journalism or some agenda to undermine local authorities and public bodies?

imagesThe BBC is running a story about UK local authorities and other public bodies using private detectives in surveillance work. The report claims that “more than £3.9 million has been spent by public bodies in the last two years on paying private investigators, according to Big Brother Watch.” (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-21815638). It would be reasonable reading this story to be outraged, but if one investigates further, all is not what it seems. Public bodies are using private investigators to gather evidence on a range of issues around fraud, anti-social behaviour and child protection. Some of the money also goes to Fishery Patrol flights. All of these seem laudible; though if public bodies are, as Big Brother Watch claim, using private investigators to get round the provisions of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, there is an issue of concern.

So who are Big Brother Watch? It does not take much to find out (all the profiles below are taken from the website at http://www.bigbrotherwatch.org.uk/). It’s founder, Matthew Elliott, is a political lobbyist and founder of the right-wing Taxpayer’s Alliance. His own profile on the website states: “In 2010 Matthew was described by the BBC as “one of the most effective lobbyists at Westminster” and he was ranked by Total Politics as one of the top 25 political influencers in the UK. Matthew led the successful NO to AV campaign in May 2011, achieving an emphatic victory.  Matthew has written four books on public spending and is a Fellow of the RSA.”

His director is Nick Pickles – no relation to the Conservative minister Eric Pickles, but his affiliation to the Conservative Party stretches to having been a candidate in 2010 forBBW the Normanton, Pontefract  and Castleford constituency, currently held by Yvette Cooper, partner of Ed Balls (Labour’s shadow chancellor). The deputy director, Emma Carr, also has a Conservative Party affiliation, having been a regional chairman for Conservative Future at the time of the General Election. Finally, but not least, Dominique Lazanski, a veteran of Silicon Valley and now doing  “freelance consulting to private industry and [working] at the TaxPayers’ Alliance on digital policy issues. She has a long held interest in public policy and participatory government. She has written and spoken on digital issues over the years from a free market and entrepreneurial perspective.”

The profiles suggest that public bodies are antithetical to their own interests and agenda. In and of itself I do not have a problem with that. I do have a problem with the BBC running the story – at public expense – without making clear the affiliation or even naming the journalist behind the BBC story.

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