EDDC spends ‘a large amount’ on FoI requests

EDDC's Knowle HQ. Ref shs 7651-15-12SH Picture: Simon Horn

EDDC's Knowle HQ. Ref shs 7651-15-12SH Picture: Simon Horn - Credit: Archant

‘An awful lot of taxpayers’ money’ is spent on dealing with Freedom of Information (FoI) requests, East Devon District Council (EDDC) has revealed.

The Herald reported in July how authority bosses were considering hiring an extra member of staff – at a cost of up to £33,000-a-year – to help process the hundreds of applications the council receives.

This has since gone ahead, but EDDC says it still ‘expends a large amount of resource’ on handling FoI requests - including time spent by senior officers, their staff and the council’s legal team.

The FoI Act allows anyone to request information which is not already publicly available.

At present, people can lodge a request with a local authority or public body, so long as finding the information does not cost more than £450. Last year, Sidmouth resident Jeremy Woodward successfully used FoI requests to force EDDC to release confidential documents about its relocation from Knowle.

EDDC dealt with 486 requests in 2014/15 - down from 563 the year before.

But at a meeting in December, EDDC leader Councillor Paul Diviani told members that the council still spends ‘an awful lot of taxpayers’ money dealing with FoI requests’.

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The Herald asked EDDC exactly how much is spent, but a spokeswoman said it does not usually quantify officer time spent dealing with FoIs as part of their day-to-day work.

The spokeswoman added: “We employ one permanent (part time) member of staff to deal with FoIs and complaints and have more recently taken on another post (fixed-term for one year) to assist in dealing with the volume of work in this particular department.

“Approximately, over half of their time is spent on FoI requests as opposed to complaint handling. Of course, it is not just the time of the officers directly responsible for handling requests that should be noted.

“The monitoring officer also has to spend time dealing with internal reviews and, perhaps more significantly (in terms of overall time), the time spent by other senior officers (and their staff members) in dealing with a request that involves their service, also has to be taken into account.

“Finally, there is the time spent by the legal department in helping the information and complaints officers carry out their role.

“Suffice to say, given the number of requests, the council expends a large amount of resource in dealing with FoIs.”