Council takes steps forward in Freedom of Information charge

The launch of Rothbury and Mid Coquetdale neighbourhood plan

The launch of Rothbury and Mid Coquetdale neighbourhood plan

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A north Northumberland parish council has now set out in full a new charging policy for Freedom of Information (FoI) requests to the council that take considerably more time and money to produce an official response.

The Freedom of Information requests can be made by members of the public, and are often made by journalists, to obtain information from any public body.

Rothbury Parish Council explained at its meeting last Wednesday that ‘in recent years, requests have been received for hundreds or thousands of sides of A4 or even every piece of paper Rothbury Parish Council holds on a particular issue or a number of issues’.

Before this, the council had a policy of not charging for requests for information by residents.

Coun Jeff Reynalds, who prepared the draft policy, said that previously Freedom of Information requests ‘have been reasonable, for example, asking for a few pages of A4 on a particular policy, a copy of a set of minutes or a short paper presented to councillors on a particular issue’.

At this week’s meeting, there were four correspondences printed on the agenda for FoI requests.

A draft proposal handed out in the meeting stated that a resident ‘has insisted that Royal Mail and his own letter box may not be used to deliver the requested information’ therefore the service is ‘no longer sustainable without a charge’.

National guidance on the Freedom of Information Act was used by the council to determine the type of payments to be made and to impose a limit on the time the council is willing to spend to prepare and send requested information for transmission.

The proposal stated that ‘the overall time limit to answer an information request from any individual shall be 18 hours. Any request estimated by Rothbury Parish Council as likely to take longer than that will not be met’. In such a case, the applicant will be informed.

With regard to proposals that will take less than 18 hours, the council will ‘reserve the right to meet simple and easy-to-respond-to requests for information without charge’.

For those that may take a large amount of time, a charge will be levied to cover the costs of informing the requestor whether it holds the information and any cost for paper, printing, computer use and delivery costs incurred in meeting that request.

The standard charge will be at the rate of 10p for each page provided in mono and 20p in colour, plus delivery.

The council is not allowed to charge for staff or councillor time. A fees notice for that request will be issued and collected before the information is supplied.

Chairman Coun Mark Gilson said: “I think it sounds totally fair to me.”

The draft proposal was voted through unanimously, with Coun Gilson adding that ‘here-on we have a tariff of charges for Freedom of Information Act requests’.

For further information about the new Freedom of Information Act guidelines for Rothbury, email Rothburyparishcouncil@hotmail.com or visit www.rothburyparishcouncil.co.uk