SBC shake-up to meet ‘significant burden’ of FoI obligations

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Providing Freedom of Information responses is a “significant burden” on council resources, according to leader David Parker.

He was commenting after announcing that more staff are to be recruited at Newtown HQ to improve the council’s performance in dealing with requests.

He claimed recent organisational changes had already resulted in more responses being issued within the mandatory 20-working day timeframe explicit in the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act.

At last week’s full council meeting, Councillor Simon Mountford noted that, according to Scottish Information Commissioner’s records, SBC was among the 10 worst public authorities in Scotland for responding to FoI requests within the time allowed.

He asked Mr Parker: “Do you regard this as acceptable and can you tell us what steps are being taken to improve the response rate?”

Mr Parker said the council’s information management team (IMT) had “faced a number of challenges over the past year in responding to FoI and related requests”.

He went on: “This has in part resulted from the number and complexity of requests received, but loss of staff and staff absences have also been contributory factors.

“The IMT is transferring to the council’s legal services department where additional advice will be available in dealing with requests for information.

“New procedures have been put in place to ensure requests are handled more efficiently and these have already resulted in an improvement of the turnaround time for new FoI requests. Recruitment will start shortly in filling posts that are currently vacant within the team and I am confident these measures will address the temporary difficulties that have been experienced.”

Mr Mountford asked the leader if he knew the average cost to SBC of dealing with an FOI request and if the changes he had outlined would increase this or reduce it.

Mr Parker said: “I do not have that figure, but I can say that dealing with FoI requests places a significant burden on the resources of this council and other public authorities, and some are very costly. I assure you we are trying our best.”