SBC’s failure to answer FOI request on time

SBC Headquarters
SBC Headquarters

Scottish Borders Council are in the top ten list of Scottish authorities that failed to respond in time to freedom of information requests (FOIs) from members of the public in 2013-14.

Scottish Information Commissioner, Rosemary Agnew’s report to the Scottish Parliament about the extent of failures to respond to FOIs within the required 20 working days showed SBC was one of five authorities that accounted for 50% of those appeals in 2013-14.

In June/July this year there were five appeals to the Commission about FOI requests that had been made to Scottish Borders Council and all but one of those were upheld. Four of the complaints were about the council’s failure to respond within the statutory timescale.

Rosemary Agnew said: “People ask for information when they need it. FOI law is designed to get them the information they are entitled to promptly. When authorities don’t respond to requests they are effectively denying an individual’s rights. This is not only stressful and damaging to requesters; it damages public confidence in authorities and the FOI regime itself. This is why I’ve laid the report to draw the Scottish Parliament’s attention to the issues and extent of a problem which, left unchecked, could undermine the high regard in which our FOI regime is held.”

She went on to say that the problem is not typical of all authorities.

“Most authorities do well. Just 34 Scottish public authorities were the subject of appeals about failure to respond last year and only five authorities accounted for 50% of those appeals.”

“Every failure to respond is a denial of someone’s statutory right to information. Every failure to respond is a failure by a Scottish public authority to meet its statutory duty.

“It is unacceptable that a requester should have to involve the Commissioner to simply secure a response, and a poor demonstration of commitment to openness and transparency by the authority.”

In one month last year, SBC had 105 FOI requests - 50% were answered within 10 working days, 46% took 20 working days and 4% took longer.

A spokesperson for Scottish Borders Council said: “The council always seeks to respond to FOI requests in a helpful and timely manner. Late last year and earlier this year there was a period of staff absence which meant some responses were slower than we would have wished. We believe we have addressed this issue and have discussed the council’s processes and approach with the ICO’s office recently.”