Sheffield's Freedom of Information log should have come sooner, say Liberal Democrats

The leader of Sheffield Liberal Democrats said a planned Freedom of Information disclosure log should have been set up sooner.

Friday, 13th August 2021, 11:01 am

Sheffield Council is aiming to publish all of its Freedom of Information Act 2000 and Environmental Regulations Act 2004 requests and responses by April 2022, including any requests still open at that time.

Councillor Shaffaq Mohammed, leader of Sheffield Liberal Democrats, said his party campaigned for better transparency at Sheffield Council for years as opposition and this decision was a long-time coming.

He said: “Truth, trust and transparency was expected to be put back into the council and it appears that we are going to have to wait until next year.

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“I thought the big announcements from the coalition of the Greens and Labour is that things are going to be different now, the past was going to be put behind them but at the moment it seems very much business as usual.

“There are FOIs in the system that have been coming up to a year now and they have not been given and I’m assured that individuals involved have passed on the information but it seems others have sat on it.

“It’s good news that they are finally catching up with everyone else but it’s a shame that we are going to have to wait until next year and it’s not how one expects the council to operate.

“At the end of the day, we are a public organisation, not a secret society, and therefore we get public money, the public is in charge, we are only custodians of that – we are elected by them to look after their interests and I think city councillors in particular need to keep being reminded that they are not the council, they are the elected representatives of the people of Sheffield and their interests have to be the interests of the people of Sheffield, not the reputation of particular council departments or senior officers.”

In the meantime, the council said it was building open data sites to share more figures on its operations.

The authority has come under fire for a historic lack of transparency, particularly in relation to the felling of thousands of street trees, and its FOI service was criticised for significant delays to responses it said was due to a backlog caused by Covid-19.

Data published by the council showed of the 1,085 requests received in the first three quarters of the 2020/21 financial year, 890 were responded to and of those, 335 were overdue.

Authorities such as South Yorkshire Police, Nottingham City Council and Scarborough Borough Council already publish FOI disclosure logs.

Some requests to and responses from Sheffield Council can currently be seen if publicly submitted through WhatDoTheyKnow.com.

FOI enables anyone to obtain information held by a public authority, providing set exemptions do not apply to the information being asked for, and authorities must respond within 20 working days.

If a request is for environmental information, it will be handled under the Environmental Regulations Act.

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