As reported by the Daily Telegraph:
Councils claim FOI costs risk diverting money from social services
Councils, hospitals and other public bodies have been accused of “hyperbole” after claiming that the cost of responding to freedom of information of information requests risks diverting money from essential services.
Local authorities are calling for the introduction of fees for handling requests which include the salary, pay and perks of senior executives.
Oxford City Council claimed that the cost of answering Freedom of Information requests risks diverting money from essential services such as adult and social care.
Manchester City Council claimed that the “sheer volume” and “complexity” of the requests must be “balanced against the need to deliver arguably more important front line services such as social care.
The University Hospitals Bristol NHS Foundation Trust have said FOI requests cost the health sector a “large sum of money” and “detract from patient care”.
Several public bodies claimed that they should be able to reject freedom of information requests on the grounds that redacting documents will take too long.
The General Medical Council demanded a “stand-alone redaction costs exemption” amid concerns that freedom of information laws are placing a “disproportionate burden” on authorities.
Councils and Ipsa, the expenses watchdog, also suggested that the amount of time they spend censoring material should be taken into account when considering whether requests should be rejected.
Senior police officers will be asked to leave their desks and go on regular street patrols following the launch of a single national police force.
David Davis, a Conservative MP and campaigner for Freedom of Information, said: “It’s hyperbole and exaggerated shroud-waving which will not enhance their cause. It is self-interested and wrong.
“The Justice Committee in the House of Commons said that no matter what it costs, the effect of having one makes every service is much more efficient. It ends up saving money.”
The submissions from public bodies were made in a response to a Government commission on freedom of information which has attracted widespread criticism.
Christopher Graham, the Information Commissioner, has warned that a clampdown on freedom of information laws will take Britain back to the “dark ages” and risks undermining democracy.
However, the Local Government Association warned that the costs of freedom of information are becoming a significant “burden”.
It claimed that councils are spending £25 an hour responding to them, costing one small local authority more than £20,000 in a year.
The LGA suggested that the appropriate time limit to be spent on an FOI response should be reduced from 18 hours to eight.
Cumbria County Council said that authorities should be allowed to refuse requests that could be considered “lazy journalism”.
It said that feedback from councils suggests that requests had increased by 39 per cent between 2011 and 2014.
The Russell Group of leading universities has requested to be excluded from Freedom of Information laws entirely amid concerns it is “unfair”.