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FoI requests to councils almost double over decade


Mark Say Managing Editor

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Local authorities have received a big increase in freedom of information (FoI) requests over the past decade, according a new report.

Civic technology social enterprise mySociety has compiled the report, which also shows local government is receiving 10 times the number of requests going to central government.

Titled Freedom of Information in Local Government, the report is based on responses to FoI requests to every local authority in the UK, with 89% providing at least a partial response. It says that councils are now receiving about 467,000 FoI requests per year, almost double the estimate produced by University College London’s Constitution Unit in 2010.

While 66% use some form of case management system to deal with the requests, 64% do not publish a disclosure log to list their responses. While they have relatively universal records on the number of requests received and time taken to reply, they have fewer records on the volume of information disclosed or the status of appeals.

Other findings were that staff responsible for FoI in local government tend to have it as one of several roles, and FoI teams tend to be embedded in larger teams with few staff working solely on the issue. This means that the administration of FoI rarely appears as a specific budget item.

In addition, the number of staff working on FoI appears to increase in line with the volume of requests received.

Active citizens

mySociety’s chief executive, Mark Cridge, said: “This report demonstrates that people are increasingly active as citizens, using their rights to make more FoI requests than ever in the UK.

“It also highlights that the majority of requests are not publicly available or easily searchable — missing an obvious means by which to realise efficiencies.”

The organisation pointed to  the need for more automation in dealing with requests. Last year, working with Hackney Council, it launched the FoI for Councils software to identify potential duplicate requests and point users to where information they seek has already been published.

Image from GOV.UK, Open Government Licence v3.0

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