Council criticised for slow response to ‘freedom of information’ requests

A councillor has called for action because Brighton and Hove City Council is taking too long to respond to “freedom of information” (FoI) requests.

Conservative councillor Anne Meadows asked for a report setting out how many FoI requests had been submitted to the council.

She wanted to know the average response time, the longest response time, how many requests were refused and how many were still outstanding.

Her request followed a number of complaints about the council which have been upheld by the Information Commissioner’s Office.

In May and June, the ICO upheld four complaints because the council failed to provide a “substantive response” to requests submitted in September, October and November 2020 and February 2021.

Councillor Meadows told the council’s Audit and Standards Committee yesterday (Tuesday 29 June) that FoI requests felt like the most “unregulated part of the council”.

She had heard several stories from people waiting for responses which led her to conclude something was “very wrong” with the system.

Councillor Meadows said: “RISE could not get a timely response, so the Conservative group had to raise it at full council in the form of a notice of motion. The council had to expedite matters on their behalf.”

Some people had waited more than six months for a response, which Councillor Meadows said was not acceptable, even allowing for covid-19.

The council is required by law to respond to FoI requests within 20 working days in normal circumstances.

Councillor Meadows said that if council officers had been working from home during the pandemic, they should have had access and the right equipment to deal with inquiries in a timely manner.

Councillor Anne Meadows

Labour councillor Daniel Yates, who chairs the Audit and Standards Committee, said that the council took its legal responsibilities very seriously when it came to access to information.

He said that responses to freedom of information requests would be listed as a key performance indicator (KPI).

And KPIs were due to be reported to the council’s Policy and Resources Committee in December because the council was aware that response times had become a concern.

He said that councillors would also receive briefings about FoI performance through the council’s Information Governance Board.

Councillor Daniel Yates

He said: “There are some changes being considered in the team structure that will improve FOI performance.

“It may be more useful for these changes to be implemented before the planned full councillor briefing takes place – and then for another report back to Audit and Standards later in the year.”

Green councillor Siriol Hugh-Jones said that better publicity could direct people to ways of finding out the information that they required without having to make a freedom of information request.

The committee agreed to request an interim report into the FoI process.

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