Tuesday, 3 June 2014

District Council cabinet meets Weds 4th June: how to interpret FOI requests

Tomorrow evening, the District Council's cabinet will meet to consider several issues:
Futures Forum: Knowle relocation project: the current issues: LATEST: District Council cabinet to consider its "Relocation Update": Weds 4th June
Futures Forum: District Council: vote on restricting public speaking..... Weds 4th June
Futures Forum: Town/Village Green application: "a mechanism that local objectors are using to try to hold up the council's plans for Knowle"

Cabinet will also consider FOI requests:
Futures Forum: Knowle relocation project: further FOI requests

A specific question has been sent to the cabinet on the issue of how these requests are generally looked at by the District Council:


Concern has been expressed, over an annual report by EDDC officers, as to to how the council carries out its duties in dealing with requests under the Freedom of Information Act.
An EDA member, Tim Todd, has submitted a question to tomorrows meeting of EDDC Cabinet, at which the internal report is to be presented.  He has noticed that the report, when listing to all the complaints made to the Information Commissioners Office (ICO) ,EDDC appears to have failed to mention an important complaint about which the Information Commissioner was critical of the council’s handling of his request
He points out that the ICO ticked EDDC off saying:-
“….. However, the handling of this request was less than satisfactory in a number of respects and the Council will need to use this case as a learning tool to avoid similar procedural issues arising in future”.  …..
When the council did respond with some of the information Tim had sought about EDDC’s £50,000 plus buy out of Exmouth’s Seaside Covenants from Clinton Devon Estates, EDDC presented their reply, after a delay of more than eight months, in a manner in which EDDC suggested they had revisited the question on their own initiative. They made no reference to the ICO’s involvement.
Tim says “Aside from the fact that EDDC’s last reply made no mention of the involvement of the ICO, the omission of any reference of to my ICO complaint in EDDC’s annual FOI report, suggests to me that not only have EDDC failed to take the ICO’s advice on board but their actions may now be seen as to extend to misleading councillors, the public and the press”. He also adds that no mention is made of the excessive number of times FOI requests go unanswered well beyond the statutory 20 working day deadline.
The ICO complaint forms part of
(pages 86 onwards)
For your information, Tim Todd’s question for Cabinet on 4th June,  is as follows: (He has requested Diane Vernon to arrange for it to be put, in accordance with Equality Act provisions, as he is unable to be present himself.)
Will the chairman arrange for an investigation into the production of the annual report on Freedom of Information Act requests 2013/2014 (agenda item 23, pages 86 to 88)?
The report as proposed is likely to mislead members, the public and the press, as to the operation, by EDDC, of their duties under the Act. It is incomplete and inaccurate, and suggests all has been well during the year in question when that is demonstrably not the case. Specifically, in stating that five (listed) complaints were considered by the Information Commissioners Office (ICO) in the period, it omits mention of a important complaint made to the ICO, (their reference FS50512425.)
It is a significant omission for a number of reasons, not least its criticism of EDDC’s handling of the FOI request.
The ICO’s letter to EDDC, dated 23 January 2014, includes the words “However, the handling of this request was less than satisfactory in a number of respects and the Council will need to use this case as a learning tool to avoid similar procedural issues arising in future.”
In omitting all references to this complaint in their FOI report, and with other pertinent omissions, those concerned might be deemed to have mispresented  the situuation to the council, the press, and the public with a misleading annual account of EDDC’s compliance with both FOI law and their more general openness and transparency obligations.
Concern over EDDC interpretation of Freedom of Information requests | East Devon Alliance

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