Council tries to charge over £4000 for Freedom of Information that would reveal what’s been said about the Friends

In early October I submitted a Freedom of Information request in to the Council.

I was particularly concerned after Neil Cuthbert, a lobbyist for the Craighouse Partnership had sent around an email attributing a paragraph to me saying it was a email sent by myself – when I had never even seen the paragraph before, let alone written it!

This was widely circulated to officials and people in the Council I didn’t even know – such as the Head of Children and Families. It was also sent to the Head of South Morningside Primary School.

I wanted to see what else the Craighouse Partnership had been circulating about me personally. I also wanted to see if the Council would own up to this email having been circulated widely around their departments.

The FOI request I made was probably a bit on the wide side – encompassing all documentation and correspondence referring to Craighouse campus since 2012.  Added to this was a request for any documentation and correspondence between the Council and the Craighouse Partnership or any of their representatives that referred specifically to the Friends of Craighouse, Andrew Richards or myself.

The answer came back –

“Unfortunately, we are unable to provide you with the information you have requested as the cost to the Council of locating, retrieving and providing you with the information exceeds the statutory maximum of £600…. The total cost of complying with your request is £4,331.80 “

Wow!

Ok. It was a bit of a wide-ranging request, maybe.  I sat on it for a few weeks, then decided to leave the largest area of the request out altogether. I didn’t ask for documentation referring to Craighouse. I only asked for that referring specifically to the Friends of Craighouse,  Andrew Richards and myself.

A far smaller and simpler request. Or so I thought.

Another few weeks passed. Then…

“Section 12 (1) of the Act does not oblige a Scottish public authority to comply with a request for information if the authority estimates that the cost of complying with the request would exceed the statutory limit.

The total cost of complying with your request is £4,331.80”

Umm. Hang on a second. £4,331.80 always sounded a bit steep to me, but now we have two completely different requests – one containing all of the other  PLUS every document referring to Craighouse since 2012. Yet  they cost exactly the same amount? I mean exactly the same amount. The FOI people had not even managed to scrape off that rogue 80 pence.

So let’s look at the cost breakdown. Their email helpfully states:

“This sum has been calculated as follows:

Description of necessary work:

Estimated number of records to be located, retrieved and provided = a total of 1187 email records and 43 paper records = 1230

Number of staff hours involved = (1,230 @ 14 minutes per record = 17,220 minutes = 287 hours.

 Charge per hour = 287 hours x £15 p/h = £ 4,305

Reproduction costs for copying information to be able to provide it to the requester = (43 x 10p) £4.30 + (1.5 hours x 15) £22.50 = £26.80. (43 x 10p) £4.30 + (1.5 hours x 15) £22.50 = £26.80

Total = £4305 + £26.80 = £4331.80″

Are the Council seriously telling us that there are 1,187 email records about the Friends of Craighouse or myself and Andrew?

And are they really saying that there isn’t a single email as requested since 2012 referring to Craighouse campus that DOESN’T refer to us? Really? Every meeting arrangement. Every meeting with the Listed Building team. Every confirmation of a date for the diary – are we really supposed to believe all of them refer to myself, Andrew or FoC?

It is just not credible.

The FOI has now been returned for review. Our last FOI is now with the Information Commissioner after the Council denied holding information that we have direct evidence of.

Presumably by giving people the run-around they hope they will eventually go away.

This Council promised more transparency. Yet our experience has been anything but. The more outrageously they treat people, the more important it is to challenge them.

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5 Responses to Council tries to charge over £4000 for Freedom of Information that would reveal what’s been said about the Friends

  1. Robert binning says:

    Submit a Subject Access Request about yourself along with a cheque for a tenner.

  2. rosyb says:

    Thanks Robert! I haven’t heard of that but I will look it up and do as you suggest.

  3. SC says:

    Based on some experience processing FOI requests elsewhere it is possible that this could take a lot of work and be over the cost threshold (can’t say without knowing how the Council systems are set up), but they have an obligation to provide you with “advice and assistance” in narrowing down your request.
    However as the comment above says if you are wanting information about you, you can also make a subject access request under the Data Protection Act – there is no cost threshold for the number of records they need to go through, just a £10 fee.

  4. rosyb says:

    Thank you very much, SC. The only thing they seem to say is you can try and reduce the time period you are looking for. But this is just general advice – they do not tell you why your request is so expensive or what it is about it that is the problem.

    I understand some FOIs might be expensive, but I simply don’t believe that both requests would come to exactly the same amount – to the penny. One is considerably larger than the other and also different – and yet the cost is calculated to be exactly the same?

    I really can’t understand why the second request would be so expensive, but as I said, they don’t really tell you how it works so you are just left to “suck it and see” over and over and over again which is – of course- time-consuming and frustrating for the public and presumably leads to more reviews than necessary too. Not a good system.

    I will try what you suggest and wait for the outcome of the review also.

  5. Bob says:

    A subject access request must be dealt with, they are obliged to provide you with any details pertaining to you. A friend fund this particularly useful in a recent defamation action he raised (and won).

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