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Provost’s haircut costs among FOI requests to Falkirk Council

FO1 result in a lot of paperwork

FO1 result in a lot of paperwork

 

How much Falkirk’s provost pays for his haircuts and who runs Falkirk Council were just two Freedom of Information requests the local authority has had to answer.

Since the Act was passed in 2000 - it was extended to cover bodies where Holyrood has jurisdiction in 2002 - everyone has the right to question public sector organisations.

They are obliged to answer the request within 20 working days providing the information isn’t sensitive or the costs of compiling it isn’t too high.

Last year there were 120,000 requests made throughout the UK, and Falkirk Council has answered 30 Freedom of Information (FOI) requests so far in 2014.

Provost Pat Reid said most of these requests are from journalists working on stories, though some verge on the ridiculous.

Mr Reid said: “I once dealt with a FOI asking how much the council spent annually on provost hair cuts.

“Now, I don’t have much need for a hairdresser and I certainly don’t claim for trims. If this had been asked outright, they would have got a simple answer instead of staff having to deal with the paperwork and extra time that goes along with FOI requests.”

The subject was raised in a discussion at Falkirk Council’s scrutiny committee on potential matters for the local authority’s performance panel to review.

Colin Moodie, the council’s depute chief governance officer, said: “There are some requests that would require officers to work on them for a long period and in that instance we have the opportunity to charge for the request.

“If the request is going to take up more than 300 hours of officers’ time, then we can refuse it - but charging people is rare and to my knowledge, we have never refused an FOI request.”

The meeting heard most requests were from reporters compiling data for national stories.

Baillie Joan Paterson expressed worries that council resources were going to pay for journalist requests.

She said: “This could be an abuse of the system with journalists asking for FOIs instead of doing their own investigating. These can take a long time to deal with but I understand this is a legal obligation and there is not a lot we can do about it.”

Many of the FOI requests received by the council and other bodies are available to view at www.whatdotheyknow.com.

The website shows past requests include one asking who is head of Falkirk Council - information readily available online or with a phone call - and a query to find out the duties of a school cleaner.

Speaking after the meeting, Provost Reid admitted some of the requests are bizarre but said he was convinced the act was necessary.

He said: “I think public bodies remaining as transparent and accountable as possible can only a good thing. There was a time where trying to find out any information from the government was a difficult task, but now absolutely anyone can ask questions and get answers.

“Most are from journalists and the ones from the public tend to be questioning the cost of things like the Commonwealth Games baton passing through.

“Having this information in the public domain means councils and governments have to be able to justify the costs and results of their actions.”

 

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