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Freedom of Information Act? It's for troublemakers and lazy students, says Wolverhampton council boss

Wolverhampton | News | Published:

A council chief has criticised the use of the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act, claiming requests come from those seeking to 'create trouble' for councils and 'lazy' students.

Keith Ireland, Managing Director of Wolverhampton council, said the act - which allows members of the public access to information held by public authorities - was not being used as originally intended.

A commission set up by the government is currently reviewing the Act, which helped uncover the MP's expenses scandals and embarrasses the government and councils by making them reveal details of waste and incompetence.

Speaking at a scrutiny board meeting, Mr Ireland, said: "The vast majority of requests come from media across the country, be that the BBC, local media, or media in general.

"They come from people who are out to create trouble for councils and students who are too lazy to do their own research.

"Others come from big companies who can't be bothered to look up the data and want to know when contracts are on for re-evaluation.

"It is a really costly exercise. The original principal of FOI is not what is happening in reality."

Labour deputy leader Tom Watson said in September he will resist any attempts to water down the law and wanted to see the act strengthened and widened to include private companies as well, if they are doing public service work.

In response to Mr Ireland's comments, the West Bromwich East MP reiterated his support for the trailblazing legislation.

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He said: "I profoundly disagree with the comments made by Mr Ireland. The Freedom of Information Act may sometimes make life uncomfortable for public servants but it has led to information being made available to the public about the decisions made in their name.

"That's why the Act should be strengthened and extended rather than watered down by the Tories."

A report to the council's scrutiny board revealed the authority received 272 FOI requests between April and June.

Of those requests officers identified that 59 had been made by media organisations.

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Government guidance indicates an FOI applicant should provide their name when making a request, but the council described the process as 'applicant blind'.

In addition the report said the council does not record the costs it takes to process FOI requests, but estimated it cost £199,200 to process the 1,245 the authority received in the last financial year.

Mr Ireland told the scrutiny board that the council was in fact spending £500,000 'at least' on responding to Freedom of Information requests.

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