Growing tide of information requests

NEW figures show members of the public and organisations across Suffolk are taking advantage of freedom of information legislation with more than 1,000 requests being made since 2005.

NEW figures show members of the public and organisations across Suffolk are taking advantage of freedom of information legislation with more than 1,000 requests being made since 2005.

The Freedom of Information Act, which came into force on January 1, 2005, afforded people new rights to get answers from public organisations.

The Evening Star has learned that since that date a total of 938 requests for information have been made to Suffolk County Council.

Meanwhile in 2006 and 2007, 277 requests have been made to Ipswich Borough Council.

In total the county council has refused 81 requests in three years for a variety of reasons while Ipswich Borough Council has refused 25 requests over the past two years.

A spokesman for Suffolk County Council said: “The Freedom of Information Act is very much in the spirit is very much in the spirit of how we feel local government should work anyway.

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“We work very hard at being open and have never forgotten it is the public's money we are spending.

“We have just completed the third year of the legislation coming into effect and in that time we have only turned down less than two per cent of all requests.

“The only reason for this is to protect council tax payers because the questions asked could have given away commercially sensitive information or to protect the privacy of individuals.”

A total of 49 refusals came because Suffolk County Council did not hold the information - the enquirers were provided with information where they may obtain further help, if this was known.

Six refusals because complying with the request would exceed the cost limit under the regulations. Of these, five requests were re-scoped in scale and full responses were given.

Three were refused as “vexatious” requests.

23 were refused as being “exempt”.

1. Request for names of certain committee members in a time period of six months before and six months after a particular council officer left IBC. Refused under s40: Personal information as revealing details of council officer.

2. Request for copies of any parking tickets issued to a specified motor vehicle for the past three years that has been parked in a particular street - applicant not the vehicle owner. Refused under s31: Law enforcement and s40: Personal information.

3. Request regarding breaches in the councillor code of conduct. Refused under s36: Prejudice to effective conduct of public affairs, and s40: Personal information.

4 & 5. Two separate requests each trying to trace different council tax payers who had moved address. These were refused on data protection grounds: personal information.

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