Warwick District Council told to improve service when responding to Freedom of Information requests

Warwick District CouncilWarwick District Council
Warwick District Council
Warwick District Council admits: “Our performance is not what we would want,” after being named and shamed for the number of Freedom of Information requests which go unanswered.

Last week we reported on how Warwick, along with Wigan and the London boroughs of Lambeth and Tower Hamlets, were considered the worst in the country for responding to public requests which should be replied to within 20 working days.

As a result Warwick district, along with the three other local authorities, have been placed on a monitoring list.

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Graham Smith, deputy commissioner in the Information Commissioner’s Office said: “The four councils we have named should see their inclusion on the latest monitoring list as a clear signal that they need to improve their practices.

“Responding to FOI requests within the permitted time frame is one of the cornerstones of ensuring transparent local governance. We will be happy to work with the councils in their efforts to turn their performances around.”

Among those glad to hear this announcement was Nigel Hamilton, chairman of the Friends of St Mary Lands group, who says the council took 13 months - and was one step away from being in breach of the High Court - 
before he finally managed to get papers associated with meetings between district council officers and The Jockey Club.

He said he’d made three complaints and knew of at least four other people who had complained about this and raised other queries.

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On Tuesday council leader Andrew Mobbs accepted that their “poor performance” to public requests was not what they would have wanted.

Although he did point out a fair few of the 501 information requests in 2013 came from marketing companies, rather than the public, which could use up a lot of the council staff’s limited time.

Cllr Mobbs said: “We accept that our response to FOI requests is not what the public could reasonably expect. There have been significant unanticipated staff resource issues which have contributed to the poor performance.

“Steps have now been taken to provide the necessary staff cover and further work has commenced to ensure there is long-term resilience for the service.”

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Cllr Mobbs also pointed to the huge increase in requests from 113 in 2005 to 501 last year - of which 47 were not responded to in time.

Of the requests received this year so far, 71 received a response after the 20-day deadline.

The council leader added: “This performance is not what we would want and although the number of complaints about this is low, at two, we are determined to address the issue.”

1 When the council refers to only two complaints, district officers were referring to this calendar year.

A spokesman at the Information Commissioners Office said there had been five complaints since September of last year.