Freedom Of Information delays – a response

Birmingham City Council HouseBirmingham City Council have responded to criticism of their response to Freedom of Information requests.

The Information Commissioner’s Office announced yesterday that several public authorities have failed to meet the requirement to reduce the time they take to respond to FOI requests. The ICO monitored the performance of 33 public authorities for a period of three months, following concerns about delays in their responses to FOI requests. Of the 33 authorities, the ICO is in discussions with several organisations about the improvements they still need to put in place. The Commissioner has particular concerns about delays at the Cabinet Office, the Ministry of Defence and Birmingham City Council. Four other authorities, including Wolverhampton City Council, have been asked to sign undertakings to improve their performance in this area.

However, a City Council spokesperson said: “We logged 1,173 requests for information during 2010, 391 in the first quarter of 2011, and as of 5th April this year the council has 15 requests that have exceeded the statutory deadline of 20 working days.

“We do recognise that where requests are overdue they need to be dealt with and the council has a clear commitment to ensuring compliance. But responding to FOI requests does come with considerable time and cost implications and we estimate that it cost the city council nearly £800,000 to respond to 1,072 requests in 2009.

“So, there is some proportion and perspective to be considered with the ICO’s announcement today, particularly when the city council is operating in the context of needing to save £212 million whilst still continuing to provide 900 different services to the residents of Birmingham.

“Finally and somewhat ironically, half of this small number of complex outstanding, overdue requests relate to funding and the impact of those spending cuts on arts, voluntary and community organisations within the city.”