When Freedom of Information means information is not FREE at all
By Bill Heaney
West Dunbartonshire’s SNP/Tory Council are making it ss difficult as possible for Councillor Jim Bollan, of the Community Party, to investigate further the allegations of graft and corruption against senior council managers.
Cllr Bollan received this note today following a fiery meeting at the Burgh Hall in Church Street. It came from Stephen West, an official whose title is Strategic Lead Resources:
Dear Cllr Bollan
Freedom of Information Request
West Dunbartonshire Council received your request for information on 10th April, 2019, in respect of providing you with the following information: “Can you now please interrogate the systems for all the works given to these two companies, JRB Construction Ltd till 2015 when they went into liquidation and Newmac Asphalt Services Ltd from 2015 to date please, for additional work payments under capital or revenue expenditure.”
I would advise that the information requested is being refused and the reason for this refusal is as follows:
In accordance with Section 9 of the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 West Dunbartonshire Council is submitting a fee notice to advise you of the projected costs to obtain the information requested. The fees must be paid within three months beginning the day this fees notice is received.
If you wish to proceed with this request, please formally approve this quote by emailing FOI@west-dunbarton.gov.uk.
An invoice for payment will be issued and when West Dunbartonshire Council are in receipt of your payment, we will respond within 20 working days.
(It was revealed today at a meeting in the Burgh Hall to discuss this matter that that this is seventeen and a half months less than it took the Council to respond to the allegations being discussed about graft and corruption).
The fees are calculated in accordance with the Fees Regulations made under the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act, 2002. They state that:
- The first £100 of costs are provided free of charge
- Where projected costs include the cost of staff time in locating and retrieving the information, the cost of staff time must not exceed £15 per hour for each member of staff engaged on the task. This is a maximum rather than a standard rate to be applied in every case, particularly where staff costs prove to be lower.
- For projected costs above £100, the council may make a charge of 10% of those costs up to the prescribed amount.
- The prescribed amount is £600. The council may charge for provision of information above that limit, but are not obliged to do so. Above the limit, the council may recoup all projected costs (bearing in mind that staff time remains subject to the maximum rate of £15 per hour).
The estimated costs likely to be incurred in answering your request for information are as follows: The council estimates that reviewing, verifying, locating and retrieving all the information will take 1 member of staff a minimum of 5 days to prepare. Actual cost of staff time: £15.00 x 35 hours = £525.00. The charge will be: Total staff time (£525.00) minus £100 = £425.00. 10%= £42.50
West Dunbartonshire Council does not have the information that you requested readily available therefore an FOI Fee Notice is applicable for this request.
Methods of Payment
Upon acceptance of this fees notice, you will receive an invoice which gives details of how to pay.
If you are dissatisfied with this decision or the way in which West Dunbartonshire Council has dealt with your request, you are entitled to require the Council to review its decision. Please note that in order for a review to take place, you must:
- lodge a written “requirement for review” within 40 working days of the date of this notice
- include your address for correspondence, a description of the original request and the reasons why you are dissatisfied
- Send your review request to the following address:
West Dunbartonshire Council, Council Offices, 16 Church Street, Dumbarton G82 1QL
Staff not involved in the original decision will handle the review. You will receive notice of the result of your review within 20 working days. It will explain the findings of the review as well as details of how to appeal to the Office of the Scottish Information Commissioner if you are dissatisfied with the review decision reached by West Dunbartonshire Council.
Their contact details are as follows:-
The Office of the Scottish Information Commissioner, Kinburn Castle, Doubledykes Road, St Andrews, Fife KY16 9DS. e mail: email@example.com Tel: (01334) 464610
Yours sincerely, Stephen West, Strategic Lead – Resources, West Dunbartonshire Council, Council Offices, 16 Church Street, Dumbarton, G82 1QL
- The Democrat has chosen to publish this letter given the assurance in public from Cllr Jonathan McColl, leader of the SNP/Tory/Independent Council that everything the Council does should be open and transparent.