Edinburgh council’s ‘unacceptable’ FoI conduct

Edinburgh City Council: Condemned for FoI response. Picture: Martin Smith

Edinburgh City Council: Condemned for FoI response. Picture: Martin Smith

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THE response of Edinburgh City Council to requests for information about the statutory repair scheme has been labelled “clearly inadequate” and “unaccepatable” by the Information Commissioner.

The council was heavily criticised for taking 16 months to release information that should have been disclosed within 20 working days and expending a “disproportionate amount” of the commissoner’s resources.

The repairs service has been accused of carrying out unnecessary building repair work at properties throughout the Capital and overchanging hundreds of residents.

The report by the commissioner concerned the case of Helen Wilson. In October 2011, the Edinburgh property owner requested photographs and engineer and surveyor reports, as well as a breakdown of her repair costs which had risen from an initial estimate, from her local authority.

However, as the statutory repair scheme was being investigated amid widespread allegations of breach of practice, the council refused Ms Wilson’s request on the basis that it could prejudice the outcome of the investigation.

Following a five-month investigation by the commissioner, the council reconsidered its decision to refuse and pledged to provide the information in March 2012. However, it took another 11 months before the bulk of the information was unearthed, during which time the commissioner had to put sustained pressure on the council.

The Information Commissioner has ruled that the council breached freedom of information guidelines and had not been entitled to withhold most of the information that was requested.

The report stated that the commissioner had “serious concerns” about the council’s handling of Ms Wilson’s request and of its conduct during the case, adding: “While Ms Wilson had obtained a considerable volume of information that she wished to access by the end of the investigation, the commissioner is disquieted by the fact that this was not achieved until 16 months after she first made her request.

“As a result of the council’s inadequate handling of the request, Ms Wilson has received an extremely poor service from the council and suffered significant inconvenience as a result of the delay in obtaining information. Furthermore, the commissioner considers a disproportionate amount of her staff’s time has been expended in order to resolve this matter.

“The commissioner is extremely concerned to note the conduct of the council in relation to Ms Wilson’s request, in particular the delays in providing information and the clearly inadequate searches that were undertaken at the outset and throughout the investigation.”