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Journalist’s probe forces second council apology over FoI failure

Jason CollieA journalist’s investigation has forced a council to apologise for a second time over its failure on Freedom of Information requests.

Reading Borough Council has said sorry after Jason Collie, formerly assistant editor at the Oxford Mail, used the FoI Act to reveal the authority had failed to respond to one in four such requests during 2019-20.

A previous request by Jason, pictured, in 2019 found the council received 1,451 FoIs in 2018/19 and did not respond in full to 380, or 26pc, within 20 working days.

The Reading resident’s follow-up request revealed the authority received 1,330 requests and failed to respond to 335 on time, or 25pc of those submitted, the following year.

Jason, who is now associate editor at MailOnline, has now called on the council to “make good on its promises” after a complaint he raised about the issue led to an investigation.

Independent investigating officer Zoe Hanim found the performance in the last year was distorted by the suspension of FoI requests for a period of three months during the Covid-19 pandemic, while the installation of software that is “key to improving timeliness” was delayed by a year from March 2020 to March 2021 due to resources being diverted elsewhere.

She has now set the council a target of responding to 90 per cent of FOIs in 2021-22 and 95 per in 2022-23.

Michael Graham, assistant director of legal and democratic services at the council, told Jason in a letter: “I would like to apologise to you on behalf of the council for the continued failure to comply with FoI requests and I fully support Ms Hanim’s recommendations.”

Speaking to the Reading Chronicle, Jason said: “We and councillors were told 18 months ago Reading Borough Council would start properly complying with the law yet the new figures (which were pre-pandemic) showed those promises were hollow.

“It was particularly worrying the council’s customer service team tried to bat these latest failures away and not properly investigate themselves initially so this really is Reading Borough Council’s last chance to put its house in order.

“Hopefully, it is now prepared to make good on its promises.”