Arun’s ‘frustrating’ bill for FOI requests tops £600k

Nigel Lynn, chief executive of Arun District Council, said he is frustrated at FOI usage
Nigel Lynn, chief executive of Arun District Council, said he is frustrated at FOI usage

ARUN’S chief executive has told of his frustration at a surge of Freedom of Information (FOI) requests which are costing the tax payer about £200,000 a year.

During an interview with the Gazette earlier this week, Nigel Lynn revealed the staggering cost Arun District Council is forced to spend to respond to the swell of queries from the public.

Since 2012, he estimated the council had spent well over £600,000 on FOI requests – many of which he claimed were ‘of little value to the community’.

Mr Lynn, who has been Arun’s head since October 2011, explained that last year alone the small team charged with replying to the FOIs was forced to contend with a total of 535 – an average of 44 a month.

“It’s frustrating,” he said. “I want to make sure that people’s council tax money is spent in the best way possible.

“I don’t believe, in general, that FOIs are a good example of that.”

The Freedom of Information Act 2000, which legislates the scheme, was brought into force in January, 2005.

The act allows any person to request information from a public body and have that information given to them, subject to certain exemptions.

The legislation covers public bodies across the UK, with Scotland having a similar but not identical law.

Since 2012, the number of FOI requests made to Arun has gradually increased year on year, from 449 between 2012/13, to 510 in 2013/14 and 535 in the latest year.

However, Mr Lynn believes that many people sending queries to the council are doing so just for the sake of it.

“The whole issue of FOI was for councils to be more transparent,” he said. “But I don’t think FOIs are allowing that. It’s enabling people who want to delve into something to the nth degree, to do so, which can tie up our officers.

“I am not saying that FOIs should be banned or stopped.

“Nor do I have issue with the press asking those difficult questions.

“But when people send them in on a regular basis, asking things which offer little value to the greater community, surely that’s a waste of money.”

Some FOIs which Mr Lynn said had frustrated him included one asking for all the addresses of council employees and a PHD student asking for the total number of FOIs sent to the authority.

He said Arun was forced to use a lot of resources to first find out if they can answer the question and then to provide a reply within the required 20-day deadline.

He added that, on average, the authority managed to respond to about 90 per cent of these within the deadline.