New rules for FoI requests from St Albans council
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The first step has been taken to streamline Freedom of Information (FoI) requests which are costing St Albans council thousands of pounds to process.
Last year the council revealed that it received around 1,000 FoI requests, more than neighbouring councils, and many were from businesses using the information for commercial gain.
The council is now looking at making more information on business rates and other frequently requested data available on line.
The issue was looked at by a council scrutiny committee last week which heard that 57 per cent of requests received between April and June last year were from businesses - many seeking information about business rates and council IT and housing repairs contracts.
It cost the council £250,000 to service FoI requests last year and the scrutiny committee felt that the type of information being solicited should be referenced in a Guide to Information which is being made available at http://www.stalbans.gov.uk/council-and-democracy/departmentsPoliciesPlans/data-protection/.
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Scrutiny committee chair, Cllr Martin Leach, said: “The council has a legal duty to supply recorded information within 20 working days to any organisation or person requesting it under the Freedom of Information Act.
“This costs the council of a quarter of million pounds last year. While many of these requests are for justifiable reasons, a large propertion come from businesses looking to use the information obtained for commercial purposes.”
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Cllr Leach went on: “The committee was pleased to hear that steps are being taken to make the servicing of Freedom of Information requests easier by making more information available online.
“This will save the council money and increase transparency. Councillors also suggested making the Guide to Information more prominent on the council’s website so that people can easily check it to see if the information they want is already available before submitting an FoI request.”