A MEMBER of the council's cabinet has scolded a Wirral blogger by claiming dealing with his requests for information about expenses has cost the taxpayer more than £10,000 in the last 12 months.

The somewhat unorthodox response was to a formal request to disclose councillors' taxi and car mileage costs, which well-known blogger John Brace had sent to Cllr Adrian Jones.

Mr Brace's written question, tabled at last week's meeting of the full council, asked: "Will you give a Christmas present to Wirral residents of a personal assurance that a date and time will be arranged soon when I will be able to inspect the councillors' expenses claims...which will hopefully reassure myself and the public that councillors don't have anything to hide?"

Councillor Jones, whose responsibility is for resources and finance, said the data was being collated - but went on seemingly to suggest Mr Brace was not acting "reasonably."

He said the online journalist has asked to inspect more than 7,000 invoices and received 1,500-plus pages of information.

Councillor Jones wrote: "This is a considerable volume of information being requested from one person and it inevitably takes time to collate and prepare such information as all personal information, commercially sensitive, bank account details, and other sensitive information must be removed.

"The council is committed to being an open and transparent council and deals with many requests for information through various avenues.

"Guidance from the National Audit Office provides that members of the public wishing to inspect the accounts ‘must always act reasonably.’

"The guidance also states that ‘ultimately it is local taxpayers in the community that pay most of the costs of questions and objections through the council tax.’

"I have been advised that you have received approximately 1,500 pages of information.

"This has involved several hundred hours of officer time being expended to collate and prepare this information.

"The costs of this work is estimated to be in excess of £10,000 – which will inevitably increase as we continue to meet follow-up enquiries."

He added officers are "working on collating all taxi and mileage claims of members and will be publishing that information in the coming months.

"However, summary details listing payments made to each individual member for expenses claims relating to the 2014/15 financial year have been available on the council website for some time."

Mr Brace, commenting on this website, said: "Some politicians will see information requests as frankly a nuisance as they remember a time before FoI.

"They want to control the information the public gets, and when it comes to matters like expenses, will act more like a union rep trying to stand up for their colleagues.

"They'll do this because their colleagues, their fellow politicians, ask them to do so because these people really don't want the public to know.

"Therefore the politician is somewhat conflicted in walking a tightrope between loyalty to their party colleagues and the public interest."

The councillor's rebuke comes as the Government is currently reviewing the Freedom of Information Act which has become a major tool for journalists seeking to uncover information about how the UK is governed nationally and locally.

According to online journalism magazine Press Gazette, Middlesbrough Council has given its backing to the Freedom of Information Act and said it will "stand against any attempts to weaken it".

The Gazette says the council made the statement in response to the Government's Commission of Freedom of Information, which is considering whether to impose FoI fees and provide greater exemptions for public authorities.

Middlesbrough Council has noted that FoI requests have increased, but said the introduction of fees would not be "appropriate".

It said that instead the Government "should consider providing further resources to councils to deal with requests for information".

The commission has published a handful of council submissions, including one from the Local Government Association.

Many of these bodies called for fees to be introduced and for time limits on responses to be shortened. 

Mr Brace's blog has been active since 2010 and has brought many issues regarding Wirral Council to the public gaze.

You can read it by clicking here.