Public Service reports that one blogger has cost Barnet Council nearly £40,000 for Freedom of Information requests over a six month period.
Cllr Daniel Thomas, Deputy Leader of the council, says the average cost is £225 and that one individual has issued 175 FOI requests. The Council says some of them are vexatious.
Not having seen the FOI requests it is difficult to cast judgment.
But it does seem that the cost is unnecessarily high. Perhaps there should be a restriction where anyone making an FOI should be obliged to indicate that they had already requested the information less formally and been turned down.
Sometimes it is a matter of the information being already on the Council's website and their being difficulty finding it. Often I am struggling in this regard navigating the websites of different councils. The first step should be to ring up the Council and ask for help from someone in the relevant department. A formal FOI request is something that council's feel obliged to make heavy weather of – lots of flaffing around with senior officials approving draft responses. Sometimes it could have been sorted out with a five minute phone conversation with a junior member of staff telling you what to click.
Also arguments over which policy to adopt should be robust between councillors and their officials. Then once it is adopted their is collective responsibility in local government as in central government. Sometimes it is convenient for these opinions to be expressed by email but this is constrained by concern that once the policy is announced those who expressed particular concerns about it will then be embarrassed by having those concerns highlighted by the press or political opponents.
Cllr Jones suggest doing X, Cllr Smith suggest doing Y. But then once Y is decided on we have Cllr Jones finding his opposition to the proposal being made public due to an FOI request. So in future Cllr Jones thinks perhaps he should say nothing.
The Local Government Chronicle report (£) a lawyer saying that even such correspondence on personal email accounts should legally be disclosed.
This doesn't help make for good policy. FOI disclosure should not cover private email exchanges debating policy.
Overall though I believe (unlike Tony Blair) that the Freedom of Information rules brought in by the Blair Government were beneficial. the Taxpayers Alliance have made great use of them. By the way my own council publishes its responses to FOI requests.