Town Hall ‘hid library review’

Cllr Shaffaq Mohammed
Cllr Shaffaq Mohammed
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A Government watchdog has criticised Sheffield Council’s attempt to keep information about its library review hidden from the public.

The authority has been criticised for rejecting a request from The Star under the Freedom of Information Act to confirm which of the 27 branches were under threat and details of ‘interested parties’ bidding to take them over.

The council’s refusal, which came six weeks after the 20-day deadline for requests last August, claimed the council’s need to make difficult decisions in confidence outweighed the public interest.

It was another two months before councillors came clean over plans to close 16 libraries across the city.

Following criticism from community groups and opposition leaders about the council’s approach, the decision was referred to the Information Commissioner’s Office.

It upheld the complaint and found Sheffield Council was in breach of the legal requirement to respond on time.

Andrew White, group manager at the Information Commissioner’s Office, said: “During the course of the commissioner’s investigation the council disclosed the withheld information by publishing it on its website.

“A public authority should confirm whether it holds relevant recorded information and, if so, to communicate that information to the applicant.

“The commissioner’s decision is that, in failing to provide the requested information within 20 working days, Sheffield Council breached the Freedom of Information Act.”

Coun Shaffaq Mohammed, leader of the Liberal Democrat Group on Sheffield Council, said: “The Information Commissioner has criticised this Labour Council for keeping secrets in the Town Hall.

“We called on the council to be open and honest with local people about the future of their libraries.

“This leaves many campaigners wondering what else the council is hiding.”