FoI requests to English Councils increasing

Since the FoI 2000 Act became law, Colchester Council has received a total of 644 requests for information. About 524 requests saw information released to the public and 95 per cent of requests were released within the allocated 20 days.

Most requests, about 50 per cent, came from the public followed by businesses, journalists and MPs. The most popular subjects ranged from planning to car parking and contracts with contractors.

Phil Pettitt, ICT programme manager, said: “The council is now receiving quite a number of requests each year and in recent months, that number has increased quite significantly.

“There was an 82 per cent increase last year on the previous year and there seems to be no sign of this abating.”

Mr Pettitt believes a number of requests were used for commercial interests, but he is not able to ask why the information is being requested.

Essex County Council’s most quirky request asked: ‘how many exorcisms have been paid for by Essex County Council?’. “Not surprisingly, the answer was none,” said Giles Roca, head of communications.

So far this year, the county council has received 167 requests for information, mostly through the Your Right to Know mailbox.

Mr Roca said: “Used in the right way, the Freedom of Information Act provides important access for residents to information.

“But increasingly it is being used by groups who see it as a tool to gain media coverage and publicity, which actually costs the council taxpayer money."

From Essex exorcisms to MRSA bugs: your questions to officials (Braintree and Witham Times, 6 April 2009)