Report of the Strategic Director, Corporate Services and Governance.
The Committee were provided with a report which detailed the number of requests for information received by the Council under the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 between 1 January 2018 to 31 December 2018.
The procedure has three steps, the first of which is ‘providing the information’ requested within the statutory timescale of 20 working days. There is an electronic tracking system which provides a full audit trail of how the request has been handled and provides template response letters which fulfil the statutory requirements of the Act.
The second stage requires the Council to have an internal review process so that, if a requester is dissatisfied, they have an avenue of complaint, which is separate from the corporate complaints process. The review stage involves the requester writing to
the Strategic Director, Corporate Services and Governance within 40 days of
receiving a response, to request an independent review of the matter. The third stage gives the requester a right of appeal to the Information Commissioner if he/she is still dissatisfied, following the internal review.
Of the requests received 90.54% were dealt with within 20-day timescale. This represents an increase of 0.06% in performance on the 2017 figure of 90.48%, this is still high among other councils, Sunderland 98%, Newcastle 84.10% and Redcar and Cleveland, 85.82%.
Over the period 1 January 2018 to 31 December 2018 the number of requests received was 1332, which represents a 17.63% decrease on requests received in the previous year and a 549.76% increase since the implementation of the Act in 2005.
Five requests have been subject to an internal review, in all cases the original decision maker’s decision was upheld. Five requesters have exercised the right of appeal to the information commissioner. The Information Commissioner upheld the Council’s decision to treat one applicant as vexatious. The applicant has now appealed to the First Tier Tribunal. The other four relate to treating the requester as vexatious, the Council is awaiting a decision from the Information Commissioner.
Most requests are now submitted by email, 1328 by email and 4 by letter. Requests for information vary considerably and are difficult to categorise, there have been a lot about preparedness for Brexit, lots from campaigners, some asking for policies and information about how decisions are being made.
In 2018 requests appear to have been made from the press, however, it is not always possible to identify the source of a request as the requester need only give a name and a return address.
Because of reducing resources and in an effort to improve the timeliness of responses and minimise the impact of any increase in requests the following measures have been taken
Services are now proactively publishing more
information online, as information published online is exempt from
disclosure under the Act as it is ‘information easily
accessible by other means’, all staff have to do is send the
requester a link to where they can obtain the information. An
example of where this has diminished the number of FOI requests is
in finance where they now publish data about outstanding business
rates on a monthly basis, we also publish information about public
Published data as required by the
· More information champions have been trained, this took place in November 2018 to replace staff who have left, another session was arranged for April 2019.
RESOLVED - That the information contained within the report be noted.