Fringe Box



Letter: Council Handling of Freedom of Information Requests

Published on: 2 Sep, 2014
Updated on: 2 Sep, 2014

Freedom of Information logo From Paul Spooner

Cllr Paul Spooner (Con, Ash South & Tongham) is the lead councillor for licensing and governance at Guildford Borough Council

I thank Mr Paton and Mr Bruton for their usual forthright views on Guildford Borough Council [see: Letter: Population Projections Must Be Transparently Disclosed].

Implementing Freedom of Information (FoI) is one of the ways we operate as an open and transparent council. Each year the council receives requests about many different subjects and service areas, and this number continues to increase. In 2012 we processed 583 FoI/Environmental Information Regulations (EIR) requests, last year it was 669 and this year we expect to receive nearly 1,000.

In the nine years since the Freedom of Information Act took effect, from the thousands of requests the Council has processed, the Information Commissioner (ICO) decided that only six complaints were worthy of progressing to a formal “Decision Notice”. The council was not ordered to release information in any of them.

Regarding any need for investigation, this information is publicly available at FoI compliance information is also reported on and scrutinised in the annual report to the Audit and Corporate Governance Committee. Residents can also find out more at

Since becoming the portfolio holder for governance I have also worked with officers to improve the visibility of FoI requests internally within the council and a weekly list providing summary details instead of just a one line headline is enabling senior officers and members of the Executive to understand each FOI request in some detail prior to it being forwarded to the appropriate department for action.

We should not forget that whilst the Freedom of Information Act assists in transparency there is also a cost in officer time dealing with requests and financially in overhead costs relating to administration, processing and the management of requests.


Share This Post

Responses to Letter: Council Handling of Freedom of Information Requests

  1. Jules Cranwell Reply

    September 2, 2014 at 3:38 pm

    Maybe the reason for so many FOI requests is the council’s intransigence in replying to simple requests for information. For example, the legal opinion on what constitutes exceptional circumstances, which was refused to the public, and had to forced out via several rounds, and escalation of the FOI process.

    Many FOI are currently outstanding, having exceeded the allotted time for responses.

    Nobody wants to go through the hit and miss FOI process, which is fraught with partial responses, no response, and/or delays, so the council should just give the information requested, in a timely fashion. After all, it belongs to the public.

    Then I’m sure you would find FOI numbers rapidly reduced, saving time and money for all.

  2. Ben Paton Reply

    September 2, 2014 at 10:40 pm

    Some businesses actively seek to gather and analyse complaints because they consider that they provide invaluable information about the effectiveness of corporate processes and the quality of products.

    A complaints department costs money. So does a Freedom of Information service. The question is, ‘does the value to the business/community/customer exceed the money cost?’

    In assessing the benefits versus the costs it is essential to take full account of the cost to the customer and to society. It is often the case that the complainant is not acting in rational economic self interest in the following sense: the personal cost of complaining in terms of time and effort greatly exceeds any personal benefit the complainant may obtain.

    Many complainants are therefore acting out of a sense of ‘principle’ and for the public good. They are the ‘unreasonable’ people George Bernard Shaw gave credit for fostering progress.

    The fact is this Draft Local Plan was extraordinarily badly planned and executed. A number of basic studies should have been completed, debated and agreed before the draft was issued.

    The failure to follow a common sense sequential process has caused immense and unnecessary ‘cost’ to the public in terms of time wasted reading documents which are still being written and regularly amended/corrected/updated and superseded. It has caused unnecessary stress to the many people who have sincerely tried to fathom what these countless pages of so-called evidence actually mean.

    If the number of FOI requests at the council has increased, it may be due in no small part to the fact that the Draft Local Plan does not contain important necessary information within it.

    In many cases answering an FOI request has a negligible or small cost – little more than the cost of an email. It is the legalistic refusals, appeals, counter arguments – which are often little more than attempts to delay the inevitable disclosure – that cost money.

Leave a Comment

Please see our comments policy. All comments are moderated and may take time to appear.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *