Labour councillor Mary Montague made the comment during a cabinet meeting at the council headquarters in Eastwood.

Councillors were presented with a report which showed that East Renfrewshire Council (ERC) received 1024 requests for information in 2014, an 11 per cent increase on the previous year.

Cllr Montague, who represents Netherlee, Stamperland and Williamwood, was one of several elected members who expressed concern about the amount of time and money the process of responding to FOI requests was costing ERC.

She said: “It seems like an easy way of doing research is just to do an FOI and get someone else to do all the spade work for you.

“There’s so much public information available and Google is such a good tool to use.

“I just want to confirm that it is the case that if information is asked for rather than it being gathered by the council it’s sign posted and there is a quick way to do that signposting.

“Could there be a standard answer that this information is publicly available and the subtext is go and find it yourself.” The Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 is an Act of the Scottish Parliament which gives everyone the right to ask for any information held by a Scottish public authority.

While councils are legally obliged to publish their information or make it publicly available, the Freedom of Information act gives members of the public the statutory right to request specific information from councils that is not ordinarily available or published online, and can not be ‘Googled’.

Her comments come at a time when community groups are raising concerns about openness and transparency at the authority.

Neilston Community Council has accused ERC of “censorship” within it’s planning application process amid a long-running row over a decision to remove public representations from online.

However ERC maintains that its procedures comply with Scottish Government guidelines, and that it is not required to post representations on its online planning portal.

Ciaran Roarty, of the Scottish Green Party, has said councillors should embrace openness and transparency.

He said: “FOI reaches parts that Google doesn’t and that’s why it exists. My understanding is that council officers will always point people towards information if it is publicly available.

“Our elected representatives have as much reason as anybody to embrace the public’s right to free access of information.

“We have seen all too often that wherever power exists, transparency is necessary to protect from abuse and to encourage trust for political institutions.

“Recently we learned that access to information regarding the planning process in East Renfrewshire was to become more difficult for the public — and even for journalists with specific training, so we can only hope there is no culture of opposition to openness and transparency in our council.” The FOI report presented to the local authority’s cabinet committee on Thursday shows that 768 requests were under the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 and the remaining 256 under the Environment Information Regulations (Scotland) 2004.

The majority of requests, 49 per cent, came from individuals with 15 per cent from business, 18 per cent from the media, 10 percent from MPs, MSPs and elected members, seven per cent from community and campaign groups and one percent from public authorities.

Some examples of the information requests the council received related to the plans for the construction of the new Barrhead High School, as well as details relating to wind farm planning applications, road repairs and potholes, children in care and inappropriate use of social media.

During the meeting Councillor Danny Devlin, independent representative for Barrhead, expressed concern about the increase in the number of requests which have soared from 269 in 2007 to over a thousand in 2014.

He said: “As a council we endeavour to be open and transparent in our dealings; it just seems very strange that there’s such a continued upward movement, something round about 450 per cent over what it was ten years ago.

“I just wonder what is behind this, this drive.

“I noticed the number of vexatious requests are listed as two for the last year.

“I wonder if that is quite an accurate figure.

“When central government brought in the Freedom of Information Act I know many people who welcomed that as a way of opening up the secretive and centralised nature of our state in the UK but I don’t think that it was intended that the council should be spending a vast amount of money on officers’ time answering questions.” Cllr Devlin then went on to make a reference to an un-named organisation, asking if “certain individuals” who had submitted requests under FOI legislation could be identified.

We urged Cllr Devlin to go on the record about which group or groups he was referring to, but he refused to do so.

He continued: “One organisation I’m thinking of, and I think we all know who it is.

“Are these individuals part of these community groups?

“I just want to identify if there’s a certain individual who puts in say 2000 Freedom of Information requests throughout the year, can they be named?” To which the council records manager, Craig Geddes, explained: “If somebody has contacted us in an individual capacity then we would have to respect that information as their personal data.

“I should say though on the list towards the end where we have the origin of requests under section six there was no individual who put in more than a dozen requests this year.” Cllr Devlin replied: “I find that incredible but I will take your word for it.” Meanwhile, 85 per cent of freedom of information requests were answered within the statutory 20-day time scale in 2014 — a five per cent fall from 2012.

In 2012, the average response time was 10.7 working days however in 2014 this grew to 12.2 working days.

The report stated: “The figures for responses within timescale were disappointing.

“This is partly a result of the increase in the volume of requests, but also because of various changes in personnel and departmental reorganisation.

“The issue has been addressed by targeted training and amended by departmental notification.

“As a result, the response rate has improved significantly by the end of the year: raising from 83 per cent in January - September to over 91 per cent in October - December.” Council leader Cllr Jim Fletcher added: “We should collect the cost and we should actually let residents know how much it does cost to answer these because it’s quite relevant.

“A lot of residents can be quite shocked at the amount of officer time and the actual cost to them as tax payers is taken up dealing with these requests which are, I suspect, fairly vexatious in their nature.”