The Freedom of Information Act 2000 and the Environmental Information Regulations 2004 came into force on 1st January 2005. These two pieces of legislation are intended to make the operation and decision making of local authorities more transparent, and more accessible to members of the public. They enable members of the public to request information from a local authority and give them a legal right to receive a response. In fact, most local authorities already have a long history of responding to enquiries from the public, and the only difference this legislation makes to their operations is that their response is now a legal requirement, and a timescale is applied for the response to be provided.
The Act and the Regulations also make provision for a refusal, which must be referenced to a specific condition in the legislation, and which can be challenged via a review process. It is sometimes difficult to distinguish between enquiries and requests which are ‘business as usual’ and those which are specifically dealt with under FoI or EIR requirements.
The chart below logs all FOI requests/enquiries (with the exception of basic ones along the lines of meeting dates and similar) to give our parishioners an idea of what enquiry work the clerk, and the committees, carry out. Complaints are omitted. We have given the information for the past five years, and will update this chart at regular intervals throughout the year. Where the parish council has received a single question request (ie. ‘please provide a copy of etc.’) this is listed as a single request. Where the request comprises a number of questions these are given as ‘3 requests regarding…’ ‘5 requests regarding…’ etc. Describing the request in this way permits parishioners to understand when the request has generated a longer period of work for the clerk, and has therefore taken longer to answer. However, each entry represents a request from a single individual. The major impact of the legislation is to guide the Parish Council in deciding what information should be readily available on its website.
The Publication Scheme sets out the information we would expect to publish, and we would always encourage our parishioners to check the website for information before making a request. Where information is available on the website, the only
requirement to respond to a request is to direct the enquirer to the published data. It is reassuring that over the past few years, the requests we have received come from a very small number of parishioners, and it is our view that this reflects well on the information we make publicly available, which is clearly answering most of our parishioners needs. We would remind all our parishioners that our clerk, on occasion will be on leave, and this will also sometimes affect the speed with which enquiries can be acknowledged and answered. To give some idea of the time taken in dealing with requests we have included the number of hours/part hours taken.
The FoI and EIR both calculate a cost of £25 per hour for time taken.