Brighton and Hove council shifts towards greater transparency

Posted On 23 Aug 2013 at 10:55 am

Brighton and Hove City Council has changed its approach to freedom of information.

A report in the Brighton and Hove Independent newspaper, published today (Friday 23 August), said that as a result the council would be releasing “a flood of information”.

Detailed results of more than a thousand requests a year made under the Freedom of Information (FoI) Act are to be published online, the newspaper said.

It described the move as “a radical shift towards greater transparency”, adding: “Currently, only the person who makes a direct request to the council sees the response.”

The Spearhead

It will also be easier for citizens to make requests, with the council having reached an agreement with the charity MySociety.

MySociety uses digital technology “to help people become more powerful in the civic and democratic parts of their lives”.

The Brighton and Hove Independent gave examples of information given in response to recent FoI requests

  • £51,690 has been spent on legal services for evictions of travellers from illegal encampments across the city since 2004; the legal costs involving Wild Park alone total £3,810
  • £52,471 has been received in revenue from the Horsdean site since 2010
  • The council had only 19 one-bedroom homes available to let in June, when 568 households were deemed to be “under-occupying” and in need of only one-bedroom properties
  • The council has 930 employees whose contractual actual earnings were between £15,000 and £18,000 a year – at an estimated cost of £19,269,629 including employers’ national insurance and pension contributions

The newspaper said: “Last year the council received 1,159 FoI requests, of which 998 resulted in full disclosure, 18 resulted in part-disclosure and 131 were refused.

“The council sought clarification about 10 requests but did not receive a reply.

“The figures so far this year are 726 requests, of which 643 have resulted in full disclosure 14 have resulted in part-disclosure and 50 have been refused.

“The council sought clarification about 23 requests but did not receive a reply. Four requests were withdrawn by the individual.”

A minority of FoI requests to the council – about 10 per cent of the total – are already made using the website What Do They Know? at www.whatdotheyknow.com.

The website was created by MySociety seven years ago to allow users to make requests and share the responses with other users.

MySociety technology will power the council’s FoI system although no start date has been set yet.

Council leader Jason Kitcat said: “This isn’t just about technology but changing the way citizens and council officers work in sharing information to improve services and ensure accountability.”

Myf Nixon, who lives in Brighton and is the marketing and communications manager of MySociety, said: “Anyone can search and read the thousands of responses that are already online – and if their question is still not answered, they can submit their own request.

“Such transparency isn’t just great for users. MySociety also calculates that it saves authorities time and money as people are less likely to submit duplicate requests for the same information.

“As well as browsing and making requests, you can sign up to receive email alerts whenever a certain word or phrase is mentioned, or when a request is submitted to a given body.

“Subscribe to Brighton and Hove Council, for example, and you’ll really be on top of the latest developments in our city.”

 

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