REVEALED: Sheffield Council refuses to provide details to nearly 900 FOI requests in three years

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Sheffield Council refused to provide details for nearly 900 Freedom of Information requests in just three years - sparking calls for the authority to be more transparent with the public.

The council declined 895 FOI requests made by the public in the calendar years 2015, 2016 and the financial year 2017/18. This means about one in six of all submitted were turned down.

An internal review has now been launched over how the council handles the publication and broadcasting of information following pressure from councillors.

A motion put forward by Dore and Totley councillor Martin Smith at a full council meeting in March alleged the authority's failure to disclose information to the public 'demonstrates a worrying trend towards secrecy'.

Today he said: "For me the figures are shocking. This is about citizens being able to get access to the information they are entitled to.

"With no transparency, then there is no trust from the public."

John O'Connell, chief executive at the TaxPayers' Alliance said: "It is utterly unacceptable for a council not to respond to freedom of information requests.

"These are essential for journalists to hold councils to account and for taxpayers to judge whether their money is being well-spent.

"The council should rectify this immediately, even if the results make for embarrassing reading."

The Freedom of Information Act was introduced in 2005 with the aim of giving members of the public a 'right of access' to information held by public authorities.

Figures revealed Sheffield Council received 5843 FOI requests in 2015, 2016 and the financial year 2017/18.

A total of 895 received a full refusal and a further 934 were partially refused.

The authority gave a full reply and provided details on 3449 occasions.

A small percentage of requests were not answered in full because there was 'no information held', 'clarification not provided', 'no data held' the request was 'withdrawn' or the authority had only just received the request and was in the process of responding.

A motion, tabled at a full council meeting on March 28, claimed opposition councillors have been campaigning for nearly two years to see agreements made between the council and Chinese building firm Sichuan Guodong Construction as part of their £1 billion deal to build developments in the city over the next 60 years.

The motion also alleged that five years after being signed, opposition councillors have still not seen an un-redacted copy of the £2.2 billion PFI contract between the authority and Amey for the Streets Ahead contract to maintain the city's highways for the next 25 years.

There were also calls for the council to start broadcasting meetings like authorities in Leeds and Manchester do.

A cross party group is currently undertaking a review of how full council meetings operate, which includes the possibility of broadcasting debates.

A Sheffield Council spokesperson said a number of amendments were made to the motion.

Documents show opposition councillors have been offered the chance to review the Streets Ahead contract but this has not yet been taken up.

In addition, the authority stressed that some elements of contracts have to be redacted due to 'commercial sensitivity'.

Gillian Duckworth, council monitoring officer, said: "We respond to all freedom of information requests and provide the information we can wherever possible.

"In a minority of cases we are unable to provide all the information which has been asked for, either because the information already exists on another website for example; or we may have to exclude personal information; the request may take longer than 18 hours of officer time (cost limit); or we may need protect the commercial interests of the council or another organisation."

Table

Totals for the three year period

Total requests - 5843

Full refusals - 895

Part refusals - 934

Full disclosure - 3449