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Concerns over Freedom of Information workload
THE quest for truth about the workings of Wirral Council has led one individual to fire off 245 Freedom of Information requests over the past 12 months.
A report to this week’s council cabinet meeting shows local FoI submissions continue to rise “particularly when anything controversial appears in the local press.”
The document says 340 requests were received in the first quarter of this year.
Assuming this number remains constant, the estimated total for the year is 1,360.
Comparisons with other local authorities show Wirral receives “a disproportionately higher amount” of inquiries compared to those of a similar size.
A top-ten table of requests shows one individual, whose name has not been added to the report on advice from the council’s head of legal, submitted 245.
Legislation allows a public sector organisation to refuse requests if they are either vexatious or repeated.
The report states that in reality only three refusals have been issued in the last seven years.
A plan is in place to try to reduce the number of requests and improve the overall service. This includes putting more information in the public domain about how decisions are reached, financial matters and council-run services.
Freedom of Information law was brought in by Tony Blair’s government in stages between November 2000 and January 2005, and provides a right of access to data held by public authorities on request.
It was intended to improve openness and transparency, but has come under threat in recent months.
The issue was examined by the the House of Commons Justice Select Committee which reported in July that the scope of the Freedom of Information Act should not be reduced, but concerns over its operation must be addressed.
This was in response to claims from some former ministers and civil servants that the Act was having a “chilling effect” on policy discussion.
The committee’s report also concluded there was no justification for introducing fees for FoI requests, despite concern over the growing number being made.