FoI requests are ‘burden’

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Providing Freedom of Information responses is a “significant burden” on the resources of Scottish Borders Council, according to leader David Parker.

He was commenting after announcing that more staff are to be recruited at Newtown to improve the council’s performance in dealing with requests.

He claimed recent organisational changes had already resulted in more responses being issued within the mandatory 20-working day timeframe explicit in the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act.

At last week’s full council meeting, Councillor Simon Mountford noted that, according to the records of the watchdog Scottish Information Commissioner (SIC), SBC was among the 10 worst public authorities in Scotland for responding to Fo1 requests within the time allowed.

He asked Mr Parker: “Do you regard this as acceptable and can you tell us what steps are being taken to improve the council’s response rate?”

Mr Parker said the council’s information management team (IMT) had “faced a number of challenges over the past year in responding to FoI and related requests”.

He went on: “This has in part resulted from the number and complexity of requests received, but loss of staff and staff absences have also been contributory factors.

“The council has been in regular contact with the office of the SIC and the director for regulatory services [Brian Frater] has met with SIC officials who have been very helpful in providing advice and support to the council. The IMT is transferring to the council’s legal services department where additional advice will be available in dealing with requests for information.

“New procedures have been put in place to ensure requests are handled more efficiently and these have already resulted in an improvement of the turnaround time for new FoI requests.”

Mr Parker admitted that, back in June this year, just 27% of FoI requesters received responses within 20 days, but by September, this had risen to 86%.

“Recruitment will start shortly in filling posts that are currently vacant within the team and I am confident these measures will address the temporary difficulties that have been experienced.”

Mr Parker said: “I can say that dealing with FoI requests places a significant burden on the resources of this council and other public authorities and some are very costly. I can assure you we are trying our best.”

In the 12 months to June 14 this year, a total of 1,069 FoI requests were received by SBC.