Home » Alarm bells ringing as concerns expressed over council department that deals with FOIs
Mid Wales Politics Powys Powys

Alarm bells ringing as concerns expressed over council department that deals with FOIs

Concerns have been raised about Powys County Council's ability to respond to informations requests within legal timescales (Pic: Pixabay)

DOES a Powys council department that deals with Freedom of Information requests have the resources to deal with its workload, a committee chairwoman has asked.

At a meeting of the Governance and Audit committee on Thursday, April 18, members received a report covering 2022/2023.

During that year, the council received a total of 1093 information requests under the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act, Environmental Information Regulations (EIR) and Subject Access Requests (SAR) 2022/2023.

This is slightly less than the 1109 received in 2021/20222.

FOI and EIR requests are supposed to receive an answer in 20 working days while for SAR the deadline is 30 days.

FOI compliance rate was 84 per cent, EIR was also 84 per cent but SARs were only completed on time 57 per cent of the time.

The Information Commissioner expects the compliance rate to be at 90 per cent.

Another problem highlighted in the report is that only 51 per cent of the 2021-2023 Information Management Assurance and Governance plan had been completed as of March 31, 2023.

Senior information governance manager Helen Dolman said that other 49 per cent had been moved over to the 2023-2025 plan.

Ms Dolman said that the report gave “partial assurance” as some elements need “more work.”

online casinos UK

Ms Dolman said: “SAR compliance rates are a point of concern, they are not simple, it can be 18 years’ worth of somebody’s information and getting those done in a calendar month is very unlikely.”

Committee chairman and lay member, Lynne Hamilton said: “Is the team resourced adequately to fulfil the statutory responsibilities of the local authority.”

“Only 51 per cent of the previous plans implemented is the new plan realistic.

Ms Dolman said that some elements may “fall” out of the new plan as they are “low risk.”

Ms Dolman said:  “The team has been through a considerable amount of change over the last couple of years.

“Of the staff I had in place when I wrote this report, most are no longer with me.

“Out of four information compliance officers only one has been with me for over 12 months.”

She explained that in terms of numbers the department may be at full strength but not in terms of staff knowledge and skills – which is causing the delays.

Staff need time to develop their knowledge, skills, and confidence.

Committee vice-chairman and lay member John Brautigam asked if matters were “better or worse” now than there were in 2022/2023.

Ms Dolman: “It’s been a challenging year, and it continues to be because of (sickness) absence in the team as well.”

With a new management of electronic information officer in place Ms Dolman said the team could move forward.

But at this point in time, she would still only give a “partial assurance” in the next report.

Mr Brautigam said: “What I’m hearing is alarming.”

He recommended that the committee need to revisit Information Governance in three to six month’s time.

The report is set to be presented to cabinet at a future meeting.