Council to review info disclosure

PUBLISHED: 14:33 25 July 2015

EDDC's Knowle HQ. Ref shs 7701-15-12SH Picture: Simon Horn

EDDC's Knowle HQ. Ref shs 7701-15-12SH Picture: Simon Horn

Archant

District council bosses have agreed to change how freedom of information (FoI) requests are dealt with - in light of two rulings which criticised the authority’s conduct.

The first decision saw a judge brand the council ‘discourteous and unhelpful’ in its handling of an appeal concerning the release of confidential relocation documents.

The second, by the information watchdog, found that East Devon District Council (EDDC) had breached its obligations under FoI law and was critical of how it had dealt with the request for further details about the council’s move from Sidmouth.

Authority leaders met this week to consider ways to improve future handling of applications for information. Wednesday’s cabinet meeting heard that EDDC receives a high number of FoI requests compared to other local authorities in Devon.

EDDC’s chief executive, Mark Williams, said the council was being increasingly expected to ‘enter a dialogue’ with FoI applicants, rather than simply providing them with information.

He said: “These aren’t simple requests. These are complex, involved, intricate requests that we have to try and deal with.

“Frankly, if we are dealing with people who have an obsession about a particular matter, and they are pursuing it through freedom of information – which they are entitled to do – then there is an issue about how can we properly respond to these.”

The council’s monitoring officer, Henry Gordon Lennox, put forward a series of measures to improve the handling of requests.

They include implementing a ‘peer review’ system, where a colleague would offer feedback on responses to contentious FoI applications, and the possibility of hiring an extra member of staff - which could cost up to £33,000 per year.

Mr Gordon Lennox said: “If the council is going to demonstrate it is going to be more transparent, it is going to take time for the public to accept that, and for their behaviour to change so that they don’t need to make the FoI requests.

“But it isn’t going to happen overnight.”


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