September 26th, 2016

Price of freedom is soaring says council

Updated: 10:03 am, May 07, 2015

COUNCIL chiefs say they would welcome a review into the Freedom of Information Act to stop it being abused.

Redditch Borough Council have dealt with almost 1,500 requests for information under the law over the last three years but bosses say too many of them are speculative and not within the spirit of what the act intended.

A borough council spokesman told the Standard: “We’re committed to freedom of information but our experience suggests the legislation may benefit from a review, to ensure it is working as intended.

“It’s a fact that a significant number of requests are from businesses looking for sales leads, repeatedly and across hundreds of councils at once. Examples of this include FOI requests for details of residents who have recently died with no known next of kin, or for details of how much tax relief local businesses are receiving.

“A national discussion may be welcome as we don’t know whether residents are happy for their councils to be compelled to spend significant amounts of money quite like this.”

A number of other councils across the country have also expressed concern about the amount of requests they receive and the cost.

Redditch Borough Council say as some queries are easier to answer than others, costs vary and are impossible to estimate.

But a report released by University College London in 2011 estimated on average it took councils 6.4 hours to deal with a request. Based on a rate of £25 an hour it would mean the borough council has spent more than £234,000 responding to FOIs.

Worcestershire County Council has received 2,428 requests during the same period putting the estimated cost in the region of £400,000.

A county council spokesman said they had not received the email and as they were not aware of any plans for a national review they declined to comment.

But they did reveal over the last three years about 30 per cent of requests had come from journalists, campaigners or research groups.

A spokesman for the Local Government Association said they were trying to ascertain how widespread concern about the act was before deciding if to lobby national government.

“Some local authorities have raised concerns with us about the volume of requests being put in by companies for commercial purposes and the increasing amount of time and resources it takes to process them.”