Liverpool Council still has ‘some way to go’ to improve how it releases information the public is entitled to.
Under the Freedom of Information Act (FOI) 2000, the city council is duty bound to give a general right of access to all types of recorded information it holds. New documents made public ahead of its audit committee have revealed just how much time and money it takes to process such requests.
Since the excoriating Max Caller inspection report almost three years ago, the local authority has been under the spotlight for its less than successful performance in delivering answers promptly.
A report to be heard at the council’s audit committee next week has set out how it has a “consistently poor level” of performance, highlighted by the “disproportionately high number of complaints about response times submitted to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), as well as the number of decision notices the ICO had to issue to the Council to compel it to respond to outstanding requests.”
Between April 2022 and July last year, 46 complaints were received about Liverpool Council’s information handling.
Year-on-year the number of requests for information from individuals, journalists, solicitors, voluntary organisations, pressure groups, Members of Parliament, councillors, businesses, property search companies and valuation companies, has risen. The documents said 1,799 had been received in 2021, rising to 1,821 in 2022.
This increased to 1,856 requests last year. It is expected the figure for 2024 will be higher still.
Committee papers said when averaged out, a single completed information request takes almost six hours in officer time. This means on average every request costs the council £143.75.
The report added, “Taking the average figure of 155 (for the 12 month period January to December 2023) from above means that it costs the Council £22,281 per month or £267,372 per year to respond to Freedom of Information requests.”
When compared with December 2022 the current response rate within the statutory 20 working days has increased from 62% to 88% as of last month. The report said, “As reflected in the commissioners’ fourth report, there is still some way to go until the council’s information requests processes and timelines reflect best practice.”