We've come to the end of #10Profiles where to celebrate 10 years of Veritau, 10 staff members have been featured. Last but by no means least is Robert, who was worked at the council for an incredible 43 years.
Robert started working at the council in 1976! He began as a builders’ labourer in housing repairs, and later became an internal auditor. The Data Protection Act 1998 and Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOI) came into force while he was there, so he took over this new provision of data protection, and began doing this as his main role.
In the early 2000s, with the introduction of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, housing benefit fraud officers began to make links with the information governance and audit teams, who investigated any concerns of fraud. These were the beginnings of the connections between the three main teams which now make up Veritau, which came along in 2009. Robert says that when Veritau started, everyone had a background in local government. “We had to learn to think in a commercial way; adapt to think about what clients wanted.” This continued a trend dating from the 1980s for local government to become more commercial, with Service Level Agreements made so that some service areas would become more like private contractors.
When Veritau came along, Robert had a ready-made small team of information governance professionals and became the manager of the service. They provided support for transactional work (e.g. FOI requests) and established the corporate information governance group who produced policies for information requests and breach reporting. Several district councils joined the Veritau group in 2012, and the team took on more strategic work.
Last year saw the biggest change in the information governance team’s work with the introduction of GDPR. Robert says there was a rush of new clients and a big increase in workload. “Data protection itself hasn’t changed much, what has changed is the awareness of it by citizens and organisations, as an integral part of the service. People at all levels of organisations understand data protection now, and FOI has also become more well-known, well used, and accepted as a feature of public service.” Councils are aware of their responsibility to citizens and citizens are aware they have a right to it.
Robert feels that modern culture has created an impression that we ought to be able to find out information immediately. This habit then falls on public services. However he doesn’t think there is a risk of this line of work being replaced by technology. The work can be made more efficient, for example they are adopting a new case management system, but most data requests are old-fashioned methods of sifting through information.
After eight years as a manager, Robert stepped into flexible retirement. He now spends three days week as a Senior Information Governance Officer. He says it took a while to get used to the change, but would recommend it to anyone approaching retirement. Robert’s favourite part of the job is providing a service to the public. “I like to think that what we do is worthwhile and enhances what life is like in our corner of the world.” He says Veritau’s work improves public services and therefore life for everybody. He also enjoys the company of his colleagues, and teaching them what he has learnt.