Questions are being raised about Cheshire West and Chester Council’s commitment to responding to requests issued under Freedom of Information (FOI) legislation.
By law the council is supposed to respond to FOI and Environmental Information Regulation (EIR) requests within 20 working days. But two FOI responses, both delivered late, show that in December 2014, CWaC only met its statutory obligation on 40% of occasions and wrote to apologise for lateness on 52 separate occasions, representing 51.48% of the 99 requests that month.
Nic Siddle, of Hoole, who has been collating FOI performance figures, says December 2014 is the worst single month since February 2012. Aside from lateness, he is dissatisfied with the level of candour shown by the authority despite public commitments to openness and transparency.
He said: “The FOI legislation was introduced to ensure open and accountable government, with a presumption that the public are entitled to information.
“However, there are occasions when CWAC seems to view this obligation differently, providing as little information as possible, as late as possible and refusing to acknowledge the existence of records (such as minutes of meetings) which must surely exist.”
One recent request asked CWaC to explain which council services and arms-length companies, such as Cofely and Brio Leisure, were exempt from the FOI legislation.
It was worded: “Please tell me: 1 which council services ie directly delivered and those services provided by an arms length organisation/company are exempt from the FOI Act and EIR.”
The council responded: “This part of your request is not considered a valid request as you are asking a question rather than seeking specific recorded information.”
Mr Siddle said this attitude was ‘typical’ of the council approach.
A CWaC spokeswoman said: “Our Solutions Team expects to have dealt with in excess of 1,400 requests for information under FOI and EIR legislation this financial year. This represents a 100 percent increase in caseload since 2009/10 when the authority came into being.
“The percentage of requests for information answered within 20 working days during December 2014 was unfortunately the lowest of the year 2014/15. As such this is not a fair or accurate representation of the team’s output.
“There are processes in place for all applicants to challenge how the council has dealt with their requests for information under either FOI or EIR legislation by way of an internal review. Applicants are also entitled to refer the matter to the Information Commissioner. The council advises all applicants of their rights to review in each response it sends.”