Councillors use FoI laws to force information from their own council

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Catriona Bhatia claimed the only way to get the information she needed was through Freedom of Information laws

FRUSTRATED Scottish councillors are using the Freedom of Information Act to get information  – from their own council.

Three councillors at Scottish Borders used the legislation to find out what was happening inside the council because it was faster than asking officials.

Independent councillor David Paterson has made 14 freedom of information requests to the local authority, while the SNP’s John Mitchell made 11 and Catriona Bhatia of the Liberal Democrats submitted seven.

It is now known how much the 32 FoI requests cost but Councillor Paterson claimed he had no other choice.

He added: “I feel it cannot be right for me or any elected member to have to make such requests.”

Councillor Bhatia, a member of the party at the head of the council, blasted claims that she was wasting public money by submitting Freedom of Information (FoI) requests.

She said: “I really must take issue with the inference that the information I sought was available from other sources and that I have been wasting public money.

Surprised

“It is one thing being able to request information from departments and quite another to actually receive it.

“With the greatest respect to officers of this council, you often have to email them many times and are unlikely to get the answer you want within the 20 days set down by the FoI legislation.”

The councillor claimed that one recent FoI request would have taken six months to be dealt with had she asked officials for the same information.

“It’s my job to represent constituents and, with an FoI request, it is properly logged and you know the timescale in which you get a response.

“In fact, I am more surprised more councillors do not use the legislation to more effectively get the answers that the people who voted for them deserve.

“However I agree with Mr Paterson that there should be a better system in place whereby elected members can get the information they want without recourse to FoI.”

Scottish Borders Council Leader David Parker said today: “I can confirm that councillors are able to request information from departments without the need to submit FOI Requests. I would encourage them to do this is the future.”

The council said it did not record costs of FoI requests.

Figures from the Scottish Government show the average FoI costs £189. If that figure was reflected in the Scottish Borders, the cost of the councillors’ requests would be in the region of £6,000.

 

 

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