FOI: The tram bosses who appear to be on the wrong track about redacting


What is it about local authorities and trams? The two just don’t seem to go together.

In Liverpool, years and millions of pounds were spent before the government decided the region didn’t need Merseytram. In Edinburgh, the tram plan there has provided Private Eye and local newspapers with many fascinating stories, and in Leeds, plans for a trolleybus project – a tram without tracks – continue to fascinate many. 

Such schemes generate a lot of interest, as you might expect, but in Leeds at least, it appears that interest isn’t all that welcome.

The Yorkshire Evening Post reports that a bid by anti-trolleybus campaigners to see the consultation responses for a trolleybus plan in the city has been rejected by Metro, the public transport body which oversees, well, public transport in West Yorkshire.

Metro argued it would take too much time – ie go above 18 hours, or £450, of staff time to compile the responses, which seems a bit odd, as you’d assume all the consultation responses would be kept somewhere, together.

But then came the quote given to the Evening Post:

Coun James Lewis, chairman of the transport committee on the West Yorkshire Combined Authority said: “In responding to this case, the NGT team would have needed to spend over 50 hours of staff time redacting information that could have identified respondents from over 650 written submissions, which is far greater than the 18 hours identified as reasonable by FoI legislation and guidance.”

Hmmm. According to the ICO guidance, when deciding if a request will take too much time to comply with:

You cannot take into account the time you are likely to need to decide whether exemptions apply, to redact (edit out) exempt information, or to carry out the public interest test.

They could argue the burden removing the names and addresses from people was so burdensome that it warrants declining the request on the grounds it is vexatious.

But should, in the spirit of right to know, a request from people simply asking for the results of a public consultation, really be branded vexatious?

And why on earth is a public body, almost 10 years after FOI passed into legislation, suggesting that they’re counting redaction time towards the 18 hours cost limit?



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