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Council Admits ‘Scope For Improvement’ In Their Handling of FoI Requests

Published on: 20 Nov, 2016
Updated on: 22 Nov, 2016

Freedom of Information Act

There is “scope for improvement” in the way Guildford Borough Council (GBC) deals with Freedom of Information (FoI) and Environmental Information Regulation (EIR) requests, according to a report due to be debated at Millmead next Thursday (November 24).

The council dealt with 84% of the 625 requests within 20 working days, as required by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), the same level of performance as 2015.

The 84% figure is just a single percentage point below the performance level set by the ICO but 6% below the council’s own key performance indicator of 90%.

Reasons for the below target performance level were given as: “the position of information rights officer being vacant for three months” and the introduction of  a new “electronic” system for recording FoI requests.

Performance has much improved since 2014 though, when the percentage figure for compliance was only 69%. However, the number of requests received, at 848, was much higher that year.

The report explains: “Failure to respond to FoI/EIR requests within 20 working days is a breach of the respective legislation. Requesters whose FoIs/EIRs have not been answered within the statutory time limit have the right to request an internal review and/or to make a formal complaint to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).

“There are therefore direct legal implications associated with the risk of reputational damage to the council, adverse publicity and active monitoring by the ICO.”

The report concludes that: “While the council’s FoI/EIR performance figures are adequate given recent circumstances, a target of 90% compliance is achievable,” and recommends three actions:

“Directors will ensure requests remaining overdue in their service areas are resolved as soon as possible.

“The information rights officer will continue to provide updates for the Corporate Governance and Standards Committee. The next report will be able to compare performance figures for individual service since the corporate restructure.

“The current case management system will be reviewed for functionality issues so that requests can be dealt with as efficiently as possible.”

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Responses to Council Admits ‘Scope For Improvement’ In Their Handling of FoI Requests

  1. Jules Cranwell Reply

    November 23, 2016 at 2:45 pm

    There is much more than “scope for improvement”.

    This report only measures how quickly GBC responded to FoI requests, which is dire enough. What it doesn’t cover is GBC’s unwillingness to disclose anything requested under genuine FoI enquiries.

    I would like to know just how many requests are answered with what is effectively a “mind your own business” response. I know that I am not alone in being passed off with such an answer, usually on the grounds of ‘confidentiality’ or some such.

    I would also like to know how many have been referred to the ICO, before getting anything useful from GBC. As others have pointed out (e.g. Jim Allen), GBC could save us much of our hard-earned taxes, by applying the openness, accountability, and respect for the public, we have been promised, and have the right to expect.

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