A PLEA has been made by a cabinet member for people to ask information from staff and councillors rather than make costly Freedom of Information requests.

At a meeting of Powys County Council (PCC) cabinet on Tuesday, July 9,  the annual report for 2018/19 on Information Governance was discussed and approved.

A new Information Management Assurance Governance plan is now in place  to improve the service.

This follows a year which has seen an increase of complaints for breaches of the Data Protection Act including sensitive data.

More complaints made to the Information Commissioner about PCC.

Figures also show that the Information Compliance department is receiving more requests for information.

The percentage of failures to provide information on time is also rising.

The report explains that PCC departments are unable to cope with having to deal with answering these questions.

Education and Welsh language portfolio holder Cllr Myfanwy Alexander (Independent – Dyffryn Banw) asked : “How much does each individual FOI request cost us?

“It’s a very expensive way of letting the public know something and I just think if we can encourage all our officers to address issues before it gets to FOI.”

Helen Dolman, professional lead data protection, replied: “Each request is different and there is no standard rate.

“But we did an exercise earlier in the year and waiting for it to be completed before we can give a benchmark of how much an average each one costs.”

Cllr Alexander added that there are people who would FOI for a “shopping list,” but many others were due to an escalation of problems.

She thought answering questions earlier would be “cheaper corporately.”

Portfolio Holder for Corporate Governance, Housing & Public Protection, Cllr James Evans (Conservative – Gwernyfed) said; “People tend to be going to FOI first without coming through the service, and that’s from members of this council to members of the public.

“If they ask the service directly they would have saved us a lot of time and money.

“I will make a plea, ask us,  as cabinet and officers the information will be provided.

“There is so much that could be dealt with in the service if it was asked first before going to FOI.”

Head of the legal and democratic services, Clive Pinney, said: “The number of increases in FOI request is making the function difficult to manage and I echo what Cllr James said.”

In 2018/19

1,420 information requests were made under Freedom of Information (FOI) Environmental Information Regulations (EIR) and Subject Access Requests (SAR).

Compliance of FOI is down from from 82 per-cent in 2017/18 to 76 per-cent in 2018/19.

EIR is down from 87 percent in 2017/18 to 78 per-cent in 2018/19.

On average Welsh county councils received 1,070 FOI requests a year with an 85.5 per cent compliance rate.

PCC received 1,260 and have a compliance rate of 76 per-cent.

There have been 38 requests for an internal review of the council’s handling of their FOI or EIR request.