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Bonkers Blog March 2011

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27 March (Part 2) - Freedom of Information requests (FOI)

As reported a few days ago, Bexley council has been collating information about FOI requests which they are under a legal obligation to answer. Someone who has asked several questions under the FOI procedure (I have made none) has given me some background information on the subject. To me, one of the more important points he makes is that the questions are answered by the council officer who has responsibility for the subject under discussion. Answers do not come from a centralised FOI answering department. My research leads me to believe that council departments spend lots of money…

Chief Executive’s Directorate : £1,437,223.01
Children & Young Peoples Service : £10,938,126.86
Customer Services : £82,078.11
Environment & Regeneration Services : £3,275,118.42
Finance Directorate : £2,663,337.73
Social & Community Services : £5,401,178.11

That adds up to £23,797,062. (†) Where does the figure come from? The list of things that cost over £500 which the council has been forced by government to make available on the web. It doesn’t include staff wages, it’s just what they are spending on goods and services, and in case you think that is for the year let me make it perfectly clear. That is close to £24 million for just one month, last January as it happens. On the council’s own inflated £40 an hour estimate, servicing FOI requests costs £4,000 a month. A drop in the ocean compared to overall expenditure on services and with staff dealing with FOIs as a marginal activity within their own responsibilities there is no scope for staff saving. So what is Bexley council worried about? As ever it is about being found out.

Having looked at some of the answers to FOIs I would say that even the allegedly expensive ones do not shed very much light on the subject. I may look into that more deeply another time.

† My 2011 council tax bill shows 2010/2011 expenditure as averaging £44m. a month so the £4,000 for FOIs becomes even more insignificant.


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