Information Requests Putting Pressure On Town Hall

The growing volume of freedom of information requests is adding to the Town Hall staff workload.

In 2005, when the right to request certain documents, facts or figures was introduced, there were 18 demands for information. Last year there were 532 and there have been 434 so far in 2011.

Administration Officer Sue Prichard told last night’s Council meeting that they have “grown like Topsy.”

Councillors heard legal costs have risen to almost £2000 a year. The Council needs a good reason for not revealing sensitive information, so they have to pay for advice on the correct phrasing to use when rejecting a request.

If providing information takes more than three days then the Town Hall can charge £450 but nobody has been billed here yet. Councillor Fred Ticehurst feels this isn’t logical when officers could spend two and a half days working on a reply without being able to charge.

Richard McCarthy wondered whether the Government could offer grants as they are keen on transparency. He said it was a difficult and awkward burden for a small authority and he guessed that around 90% of enquiries are coming from the mainland.

Chief Technical Officer Neville Gardner said students were seeking technical information for dissertations on a weekly basis.

Sue Prichard confirmed many requests were commercial or came from newspapers and TV.  Some websites like whatdotheyknow.com even tell you how to phrase a question, Sue explained.

All members formally acknowledged the additional pressure on staff.