FoI requests revealed

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Micro-chipping of children, council tax paid by the dead, piano tuning costs, nuclear accidents and the Mayor of Islington’s expenses.

Just five of the more bizarre applications lodged this year with Scottish Borders Council under Freedom of Information (FoI) legislation.

To these can be added council staff wearing video cameras during meetings with the public; sightings of ghosts in council buildings; flying the Palestinian flag; Gaelic road signs; covert surveillance of Borders citizens; Scottish country dancing in schools and how many elderly people were fitted with GPS tracking devices.

Since 2010/11 the number of FoI requests received by the local authority has increased by approximately 10 per cent year on year.

In 2013/14 the number of requests received was 1,049 and in the first six months of 2014/15, the council received 547 requests.

Although SBC does not record the time and cost of processing FoIs, it can give a very approximate indication.

An SBC spokesperson told The Southern: “It costs around £80,000 [annually] in terms of staff directly involved in the day-to-day handling of FoI requests. On top of this there is additional unquantified officer and senior manager time involved in obtaining information for requests; signing off and validating requests; reviewing a request where the enquirer is not happy with the council’s response and responding to any investigation of an FoI request by the Scottish Information Commissioner’s Office.

“Taking all this into account it is likely that the annual costs of dealing with FoI requests will be well over £100,000, but this is very approximate.”

And while some FoI requests lodged with SBC may seem strange, Essex County Council can claim one of the most bizarre after being asked for information about its “zombie invasion” plans. In a somewhat tongue-in-cheek response, the council responded that the matter had been referred to experts from Ghostbusters, The X Files and Shaun of the Dead.

z The FoI request, lodged in March, concerning council tax overpaid by the dead, asked how much overpaid council tax was still to be claimed by families of deceased relatives and how much has been refunded in the last five years.

SBC replied there was £76,724.53 in unclaimed overpaid council tax and, in each of the last five years, total sums ranging from just over £92,000 to £104,267.74 were repaid.

The FoI request related to Council Tax accounts where the liable person has died and their account is in credit.