BARRHEAD’S local authority has been told to improve the way it handles Freedom of Information (FOI) requests after figures revealed around one-in-five was answered late.
East Renfrewshire Council (ERC) came under fire from a campaign group after publishing figures which showed staff answered just 85 per cent of requests within the statutory 20-day timescale last year.
The total of 1,182 FOI submissions made to the council on topics including taxi licensing details, deaths with no next of kin, dog fouling fines, vandalism in schools, asylum-seeking children and road maintenance – the highest it had ever received.
The council failed to respond at all on nine occasions.
The Campaign for Freedom of Information in Scotland (CFoIS) applauded the council for releasing figures, but has called on the authority to make more information known to residents in a bid to reduce the volume of requests.
Carole Ewart, convener of CFoIS, told the News: “We are disappointed that despite changes being needed within the council to ensure information requests are answered, and on time, there are no ‘significant staffing, property, legal, IT, equalities or sustainability issues arising’ from this report nor was any consultation undertaken with those making FOI requests, to ensure council systems improve and are user-friendly.”
ERC, including its Health and Social Care Partnership, dealt with 878 requests under the FOI (Scotland) Act 2002 and 304 submissions made under the Environmental Information Regulations (Scotland) 2004 – an increase of 17 per cent on 2015.
The majority of the 1,182 requests were made outwith East Renfrewshire but within Scotland (37 per cent), while 11 per cent came from within the region.
Twenty-two per cent were made by people or organisations outside of Scotland but within the rest of the UK.
Requests made from outwith the UK accounted for just 0.2 per cent. The origin of 29 per cent of the FOIs was unknown.
ERC took an average of 13.3 working days to answer each request, however, there was a four per cent reduction in the number of FOIs answered within the statutory timescale in comparison to the previous year.
The council refused 11 requests on the grounds that answering them would exceed the statutory £100 cost ceiling.
The local authority has put the dip in performance statistics down to the “considerable” increase in the volume of requests.
Ms Ewart added: “I applaud the activity of people and organisations to make 1,182 requests for information.
“Whilst we believe the requests are a sign of healthy democratic engagement, clearly if the council published information more pro-actively, there would be fewer information requests in the first place.”
An ERC spokesman said: “We have once again performed strongly in responding to such a large volume of Freedom of Information requests.
“Our average response time to 85 per cent of requests is 13.3 days, well within the timescale of 20 days. Less than one per cent of the 1,182 requests received were not responded to, however, new systems have been put in place which will support staff as we aim to improve our performance each year.”