The council has apologised for its ongoing failure to answer freedom of information (FOI) requests on time, with an independent report recommending big improvements in the next two years.

We revealed in December 2020 Reading Borough Council (RBC) had again failed to respond to a quarter of freedom of information (FOI) requests, despite committing to improve this.

An FOI request by Reading resident and journalist Jason Collie in 2019 found Reading Borough Council (RBC) received 1,451 FOIs in 2018/19 and did not respond in full to 380, or 26 per cent, within 20 working days.

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Mr Collie submitted another FOI in 2020 and found that, in 2019/20, the council received 1,330 requests and failed to respond to 335 on time, or 25 per cent, an improvement of just one per cent.

He has now called on the council to “make good on its promises”.

The investigation

Zoe Hanim was appointed as an independent investigating officer to carry out an investigation after a stage two complaint was raised by Mr Collie.

In her report, she said there was a small improvement overall in 2019/20 but performance slipped back in the last quarter of the year and continued to slip in 2020/21.

She said 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 and software to improve performance was delayed by a year from March 2020 to March 2021 due to resources being diverted elsewhere.

And Ms Hanim said the software is “key to improving timeliness”.

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 RBC, said he agrees with the report from Ms Hanim.

In in a letter to Mr Collie, he said: “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.”

Mr Collie, responding to the report, 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.”

On the importance of FOI, Mr Collie added: “The FOI Act is massively important for residents and the media to be able to discover whether organisations like the council, police and academy schools are operating properly.

“Over the past few years FoI requests have uncovered Reading taking money for repairs it didn’t do and that the council was banking hundreds of thousands in profits for the green bin scheme that it kept secret.

“It has also led to a councillor being told not to send borough emails marked sensitive to her private email account and, irony of ironies, revealed how often Reading wasn’t meeting its legal obligations for FoI requests.

“If, in a year’s time, the council isn’t hitting 90 per cent compliance then it really needs to refer itself to the Information Commissioner’s Office because it has to abide by the law, just as it demands residents do.”

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What are FOIs?

The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) first came into effect in 2005.

It is often used by campaigners and journalists but anyone is allowed to request information.

You can request any sort of information from any public body, such as the council, police, or fire service.

Although there are some exemptions, public bodies are legally obliged to give you the requested information.

You can send a FOI request to RBC by emailing: