Councillors under fire for using the FOI Act too much

Councils are becoming increasingly vocal about the cost of dealing with Freedom of Information requests. Wolverhampton City Council, for example, reminds people about the cost of dealing with requests when sending replies out.

I can’t imagine the city council sends out letters with the binmen telling them how much it costs to empty the bins, or dispatches memos to parents complaining about how much it costs to provide teachers in schools. So why pick on the FOI Act? Anyone would think it’s because councillors, once they become the ruling party, and senior officers don’t like having to be held to account.

To that end, an interesting spat is developing in York, where Labour has had a pop at the Lib Dems for submitting too many FOI requests. Labour claim the Lib Dems start from a position of expecting the council to be unhelpful in requests for information, according to the York Press.

The average cost of dealing with an FOI request in York is £300 a time (presumably, the cost of working out that average isn’t included). In defending their use of the FOI Act, the Lib Dems in York have hit the nail on the head:

Lib Dem leader Coun Carol Runciman said: “If the information is freely available for councillors to ask for, why does it cost £300 to release the exact same information through an FOI request?

“If putting FOIs on the council website for everybody to view costs £300 a time, the council needs to take a serious look at the process.”

It’s good to hear a councillor saying that. Be it journalist or councillor, no-one should be using the FOI Act unless they have to. And if opposition councillors in York feel they have no choice but to use the Act to get information, then the problem is surely with York Council, not with the inquisitive instincts of opposition councillors.

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