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Journalist hits out at council failure over hundreds of FoI cases

A former regional daily assistant editor has hit out at a council’s failure to comply with Freedom of Information law in hundreds of cases.

Jason Collie, who used to work for the Oxford Mail, revealed that Reading Borough Council had missed the statutory 20 working-day deadline in one in four FoI cases – ironically using the FoI Act to uncover the information.

Jason, pictured, discovered that in 2018 the council did not respond in full to 380 out of 1,451 requests within the time limit – which equates to 26pc of those submitted.

The council says it has now carried out an internal review as a result of Jason’s investigations, which he carried out in his capacity as a local resident.

Jason, who is deputy digital editor at London’s Evening Standard but lives in Reading, told the Reading Chronicle: “Failing to comply with the law in one in four cases is not acceptable.

“Council tax payers don’t get to say to the council ‘I can’t be bothered paying my council tax on time’, so why did the council think it is acceptable to have the same record on FoIs?

“FoIs are important. In the last 18 months we have uncovered that the council was banking £700,000 a year with the green bin scheme, when it was telling people it only needed to cover £300,000 costs, that it was paid to repair damage from an event in one of the parks but didn’t carry out the work, and led to a senior councillor being warned for sending an email marked ‘official sensitive’ to their personal email.

“These are important matters the public has a right to know about.”

The council had failed to meet its 20-day deadline of some of Jason’s FoIs and he said that the officer in charge of compliance then refused to investigate whether it had a significant problem.

The 47-year-old added: “It’s the irony of ironies that we had to use the FoI Act to uncover that the council was failing to comply with the FoI Act in one in four cases.”

A spokesman for the council said: “The council considers any failure to comply with its statutory duties to be serious.

“An increase in FoI requests combined with reduced resources in recent years has had an impact on response times, however, the requirement to respond to FoI requests within 20 working days has been reiterated at a senior level within the council.

“An internal FoI review has also recently been undertaken and a management action plan is being developed which will also contribute to improving response rates.

“The council will be closely monitoring future FoI response rates.”