Council failing to meet target for FOI responses

Opposition group leader slams Enfield Council over Freedom of Information response record, reports Simon Allin, Local Democracy Reporter

Enfield Civic Centre
Enfield Civic Centre

Enfield Council has been criticised for “poor performance” over delays in responding to requests for information from the public.

The Conservative opposition group has called on the council to make improvements after the civic centre failed to meet its target of responding to all Freedom of Information (FOI) requests on time during every quarter of the past year.

Under the Freedom of Information Act, members of the public are entitled to access information held by public sector organisations, which are supposed to respond within 20 working days of receiving a request. 

Enfield Council aims to respond to all FOIs within the 20-day deadline. But a recently-published performance report revealed the authority failed to meet the target in each quarter of 2020/21 and, during the first quarter of 2021/22, more than a fifth of responses did not meet the deadline. The council said it had recently received a high number of FOI requests and pledged to make improvements.

Conservative leader Joanne Laban said: “The Labour administration must be quicker at responding to FOI requests. Enfield Council did not meet the required target of responding to 100% of all FOI requests on time at any point last year, nor did it improve in the first quarter of 2021/22. It just shows poor performance.”

The FOI response delays were revealed in the 2021/22 first quarter performance report, which was presented to cabinet in October. Public bodies are occasionally allowed to make reasonable extensions to the 20-day response time when they need more time to consider a test of whether releasing the information is in the public interest.

Cllr Laban added: “It is vitally important that the  response rate improves because the target is set by legislation, and failure to comply will only tarnish Enfield Council’s reputation further as being incompetent.” 

Responding to the comments, a council spokesperson said: “We are committed to transparency and responding to enquiries from members of the public, politicians and third-party organisations quickly and effectively.

“Despite a high number of FOIs received in recent months and the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, our performance in responding to Freedom of Information requests is consistent.

“To improve our performance in this area, Enfield Council has introduced changes to the way we process and respond to such requests, including the introduction of a new system for recording complaints and the creation of a central team to enable a more agile and effective way of working.

“We have also delivered a number of training sessions across the council to key staff to ensure all officers understand their role and the role of their teams in helping us drive up performance in this area.”