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Thursday, 7 October 2010

Ealing Council exposed over Freedom of Information failures

I was not shocked when I heard a day or so ago that Ealing Council has been named on a list of organisations that appear to be flouting Freedom of Information rules.

The Information Commissioner's Office said the organisations were taking too long to respond to Freedom of Information Act requests and would now be monitored for three months. Only a few months ago a resident who lives near me said she had asked Ealing Council for some information that she was entitled to see. She waited and waited and waited. She grew impatient and contacted me.

I then asked a few questions of the manager of the relevant department and they admitted that a relatively small proportion of applications for freedom of information requests has been made within the legal time limit. Very sad.

I am happy that the Information Commissioner is to look into this. Democracy is about free speech but about being able to find out what the council or the government are doing.

The ICO deputy commissioner Graham Smith said: "This is a perfect opportunity for the authorities named to get their houses in order and demonstrate that they take freedom of information requests seriously. In the five years since the Freedom of Information Act was brought into force, a significant number of the complaints we receive are about organisations that take too long to respond to information requests."

He added: "We will monitor the authorities named today for three months, but may take action during this timeframe if an authority's standard of compliance is revealed to be particularly poor, or if it is unwilling to make the improvements necessary."

I am to ask some public questions about this matter so Ealing Council cannot squirm out of the issue.

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