Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Cornwall Council named and shamed over FoI performance - UPDATED

Cornwall Council has been told that it's performance in responding the Freedom of Information requests is not satisfactory and the authority must improve its performance. The Information Commissioner has criticised the performance of the council and five other public bodies.

In a statement, the Information Commissioner, Christopher Graham, said:

"Six authorities fell below the required standard and have been told to make changes or risk formal enforcement action."

It's regrettable that Cornwall Council has fallen so far below the acceptable standard that they have to be named and shamed in this way, particularly as the Leader so often preaches about 'openness and transparency'.

We have a 'member champion' for freedom of information and there was an 'Openness and Transparency Working Group' but they appear to have achieved little in the face of the bunker mentality of Cornwall Council.

This particular criticism reflects a pretty narrow measure - formally submitted requests under the Freedom of Information Act and regulations. These are pretty complex things and cost the council money as they have to be noted and checked at various stages. The council is quite right to say that it makes far more sense if people submit their requests informally. But experience shows that the council is committed to a clandestine culture and often tries to weasel out of giving proper answers to questions (and sometimes takes months to reply). It's therefore not surprising that many people resort to formal FoI requests as these have a defined timetable and requirement to give the whole answer.

UPDATE: Council Leader Alec Robertson has claimed at today's Cabinet meeting that this performance has improved significantly. But not so significantly that the Information Commissioner should decide not to issue this very public warning.

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