Information Act has become a hindrance

Giles Roca, interim head of media and marketing at Essex County Council, writes: "There is no doubt that a genuine attempt at increasing transparency and access to government lay behind the introduction of the Act. However, questions over its use and interpretation are growing louder and ever more frequent."

He questions the cost to the taxpayer of having to respond to trivial and non-sensical questions, such as the cost of the consumption of bottled water and biscuits, or the request to one of the Council's members who, sharing her name with the US songstress Tracy Chapman, was asked whether she 'drove a fast car'.

"The average request takes 10 hours to process and costs £25 an hour in admin - far greater than the stipulated financial limits. It also diverts huge amounts of time and resource away from day jobs. One authority recently estimated the cost of processing all of the FOI requests submitted by the TayPayers' Alliance for one of its reports at around £110,000. The irony in this case is not lost. But, as we all know, democracy does not come cheap."

"The Act, of course, has a particular challenge for public sector comms professionals. How to reconcile conforming to what is after all the law, knowing full well that the results will, in all likelihood, be taken out of context and used in a less than flattering manner."

Information Act has become a hindrance (PR Week, 29 May 2008)