Council ‘keeping secrets’ as FoI snubs double

THE city council has been accused of “strangling” local democracy after it emerged Freedom of Information (FoI) request refusals have hit a five-year high and are more than double the 2010 level.
Mark TurleyMark Turley
Mark Turley

Of 1534 requests received in 2014, 917 were refused – a rate of just under 60 per cent.

This compares to around 46 per cent in 2013 and is up considerably on 2010, when only 370 of 1498 requests were rejected.

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Given Royal Assent in 2000, the Freedom of Information Act guarantees a public “right of access” to information held by the government, councils and other authorities.

City leaders have insisted that they are performing well against other Scottish councils.

And they said their ability to respond to many FoI requests had been constrained by the fact that controversies such as the tram dispute, Liberton High tragedy and statutory repairs scandal were subject to legal proceedings and other external investigations.

But social campaigners have blasted the trend and said it had significant implications for democracy.

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Richard Haley, chair of Scotland Against Criminalising Communities, which works to protect access to information and other civil liberties, branded the increase “shocking”.

He said: “The council is our representative – it ought to be seizing every opportunity to share with voters what it is doing. But far too often we see Freedom of Information requests treated as if they’re a game in which the objective is to give the minimum information required by law.

“This is strangling one of the most useful developments in democracy in recent years.”

Recently, the Evening News used FoI legislation to show how wardens here are issuing only a tenth of the fines handed out in Glasgow for littering, fly-tipping and dog fouling.

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Evening News queries which were refused include attempts to access correspondence about a grievance procedure involving Transport for Edinburgh chief executive Ian Craig.

A request for information on possible pay-offs to former Services for Communities director Mark Turley at the time of his resignation last year was also knocked back.

City leaders said that, where they hold requested information, they would always aim to release it. A spokeswoman said: “There are some circumstances in which we cannot provide information, for example for legal reasons or because it includes personal data.

“The City of Edinburgh Council performs well against other Local Authorities in terms of responding fairly to FoI requests and we are committed to acting in the public interest.”