Edinburgh council worst for Freedom of Information

Edinburgh City Council is the worst council in Scotland for FoI. Picture:  Jenny Hagglov
Edinburgh City Council is the worst council in Scotland for FoI. Picture: Jenny Hagglov
31
Have your say

THE number of appeals over freedom of information requests to Edinburgh City Council has more than quadrupled in the past five years.

THE number of appeals over freedom of information requests to Edinburgh City Council has more than quadrupled in the past five years.

And the council has been named as the worst council, and second-worst public body, – after the Scottish Government – for failing to respond to FoI inquiries within the time allowed.

Today’s annual report from Scottish Information Commissioner Rosemary Agnew, ­covering 2012-13, shows Scotland-wide the number of appeals rose 14 per cent last year, and 49 per cent over the past five years. Appeals ­involving FoI requests to the city council totalled 64 – up more than ten per cent from 56 the previous year, but dramatically up from 24 in 2010-11, 22 in 2009-10 and just 15 in 
2008-9.

Ms Agnew said 27 per cent of all appeals she received were caused by public bodies failing to respond within the statutory 20-day limit.

The Scottish Government had the worst record, with 32 such appeals last year, and the city council was next with 18 appeals sparked by the authority’s lack of response.

Ms Agnew said: “These findings concern me. Eight years on from the introduction of FoI, we would expect authorities to be more effective at ­handling requests, not less so.

“When they don’t respond, authorities fail to respect people’s legal rights to information: information which can be extremely important to individuals and communities. A ­failure to respond can also harm public perception of FoI.”

She said while many FoI requests were answered on time and a lot of information provided, research showed that was not the public’s ­perception.

She said: “Scottish public authorities that are falling short should take steps to address their performance as an immediate priority. In doing so, they should also remember that failing to respond doesn’t make requests go away, but just creates unnecessary extra work and increases costs.

“Failure to respond generates complaints, review requests, and appeals to my office, and damages a public authority’s reputation. The most efficient option is to get it right first time.”

Of the 64 appeals against the city council, 21 were closed without investigation, a further 13 were settled and 16 were withdrawn. But of the 23 cases decided by the commissioner, eight went in favour of the appellant, five for the council and ten were partially upheld.

A council spokeswoman said the figures related to a period when it was swamped with a 20 per cent increase in FoI requests, mainly relating to property conservation issues.

She said: “Since then, significant steps have been taken to improve performance and over 90 per cent of requests ­submitted to the council are now answered within the statutory timescales.

“Further measures are also being taken to ensure performance continues to improve in this area and last month we responded to 94 per cent of requests on time – our highest level of compliance since the FoI act came into force.”

‘SHOCKING’ LACK OF URGENCY

WHEN the statutory repair bill facing Colin Mortimer and his neighbours soared from £9000 to £22,000 per flat, he wanted to know why – so he put an FoI request in to Edinburgh City Council, looking for a breakdown of the costs involved at the tenement block in Newington. After 20 days, he had heard nothing, so sent a reminder and received an acknowledgement but nothing more. He then took his case to the commissioner, who ruled the council should respond. He finally got a reply the day the deadline expired. He described the council’s performance on the issue as “shocking”.