Questions about town and parish councils
Follow Councillor Q&A on X/Twitter

Follow us on X/Twitter

0 votes

In the last 6 months we have had FOI requests from myself, members of the public and other councillors oh and from THE CLERK. The clerk is contracted to work 32 hours a week which does NOT include the overtime they receive for evening meetings. We are a town of 2000 with a budget of £145,000 a year with the highest precept in West Devon....we own four financially passive assets - At the recent personnel committee clerk steered them to the following recommendations!!!!!! See 2 & 3 below  The clerk has provided NO evidence of impact of FOIs (some they have submitted) no evidence that it has impacted workload, there is no timings given for workload. They work from home 3 days a week and 2 mornings in the council office so difficult to monitor,......it's not as if we are a town with onerous workload.  Does anyone else have such a line in the budget for FOIs to be charged to taxpayer as additional work when it is part of employment contract. 

 STAFFING LEVELS

  1. 2. Agreed to recommend to the full council to include a budget and budget code for 2024/25 forall Freedom of Information Requests, Subject Access Requests and data breach complaints due to the excessive number received and dealt with during the current financial year which the clerk, as the sole employee and appointed person to deal with such requests, has found too time constraining and disruptive to current workload for the Council resulting in delay to other workload tasks, as reported monthly to full council under Clerks reports. Clerk to provide breakdown of known costs to date, to form the basis of a proposed budget for next full council meeting.

  2. 3. Recommendation that Freedom of Information Requests, Subject Access Requests and data breach reports to be dealt with by the Clerk/locum as additional hours and not within the cur rent contracted hours, and charged against the new budget code

by (560 points)

4 Answers

+1 vote
Best answer

It is inappropriate to describe FOI / SAR submissions as disruptive and time-consuming and to adopt this approach says a great deal about the attitude being applied.

In reality, a properly functioning organisation with an effective and compliant publication scheme should experience very little disruption since the need for FOIs / SARs would be minimal.

If there are excessive or repeat submissions this should be acknowledged as a 'red flag' for potential systemic failures within the organisation.

A clerk should NEVER regard an FOI / SAR as a 'nuisance' but rather as the trigger for a review of their publication scheme.

To hear that you have a clerk submitting their own FOIs to the council and simultaneously seeking budget uplift and additional hours to respond is wholly irregular!

It very much sounds like your problem is not the frequency of FOIs but rather the action on receipt of them. 

by (19.8k points)
edited by
indeed and arguments I borrow from you and shall use to enhance mine. The clerk sadly considers any questions to be personal (for example can you show me the overtime split in the budget - no I don't answer to you.......6 months later in a finance meeting when I questioned it again (after an FOI was refused) I got to the bottom of wage anomalies/overtime etc and lo & behold the budget had overcharged the taxpayer £8k+ for double accounted tax and national insurance.....something the clerk then accused me of not understanding and reworked the budget to show the overcharge I discovered as 'contingency'!! There is NO SUCH THING as a contingency in a council budget but there is such a thing as reserves - they refused to even accept that argument. Asking questions often results in accusations of harassment. I got signed off sick by my GP because of the clerk's tone, bullying, humiliations, grievance complaints against me and false accusations - following which the clerk wrote and  ordered me not to come to the office without being accompanied by another councillor and informed me they would provide me with no further information. The result was I had to submit FOIs - their response to accuse me of wasting their time and impeding their ability to do their work!! FOIs are part of their workload....answering questions is part of their workload - she subsequently got councillors to approve a proposal that the clerk could pick and choose what emails and questions they responded to!
Dreadful - but sadly familiar tale.  Could I just confirm, are you a Cllr or an employee?
I am a cllr.......with several years experience at county level and now a parish level I hold my head in my hands at how unrelentingly Wild West it is and makes banana republics look like a good model for democracy!
0 votes
I was a clerk to several councils before retiring.  I have no idea of your circumstances but I can tell that in my experience FOI requests can be both disruptive and time-consuming so I have some sympathy for what is being said.
by (9.8k points)
so why does the clerk submit so many of their own? They work 32 hrs a week.....we are a very small town! This is essentially an additional tax on the taxpayer for transparency and scrutiny!
I have no idea.  Why don't you ask them.  As a matter of interest, to whom does the clerk submit his/her FOI requests and how are they responded to ...
they are submittng them to the council and the ICO has in no uncertain terms informed them that they do not understand the law, rules, expectations of FOIs and need immediate mandatory training! Training that has been ignored. As the Data Officer their FOIs and SARs create a conflict of interest!
0 votes
I have never heard of a clerk submitting a FOI before so am more than slightly surprised by that, given that such requests are made to the clerk as the Proper Officer.  What on earth is going on?

As a former clerk, I certainly agree with John that such matters are time consuming and disruptive and a separate budget line would draw attention to the costs incurred but wouldn't agree that they should be paid separately.  Costed separately for information purposes yes but paid as part of the normal job of a clerk which might include overtime if necessary to deal with the workload.
I also have sympathy.  I read recently of a small council (clerk working just 4 hours per week) where a particularly difficult individual bombarded the council with over 60 emails a week and multiple FOIs.  There needs to be a robust vexatious complaints policy in place at the very least.
Finally, a note about the clerk's workload.  Is your clerk a sole employee as a budget of £145,000 for a 2,000 population implies either a very busy council or additional services or facilities?  Our clerk works 4 days a week for a similar precept but larger population and keeps a timesheet which we can ask to view.  It doesn't have to be very detailed in terms of time but the list of tasks undertake can be an eye-opener.    It doesn't have to be approached in an accusing manner but in a (hopefully genuine) attempt at identifying what the problem is in terms of usage of time or ensuring the correct number of hours are properly allocated to the staff.
by (18.5k points)
the clerk has made FOI and SAR to the council to specific councillors. As a council we provide no additional services. The budget is too high- the highest precept in the county. The timesheet issue is one that keeps getting rejected. I'd like to see one and if it all adds up then we have a problem but previously we had a clerk and deputy clerk - one worked 20 hrs the other 12 and we never had problems ....this new clerk persuaded council to dispense with a deputy and they would take on the whole allocation of hours.....since then various tasks have been outsourced from their workload and a locum used for other tasks.......unfortunately we have a council that can't see this is an expensive problem!
First and foremost, the council is a corporate body and Subject Access Requests and Freedom of
Information Requests are made to the council not individuals.  You clerk seriously needs retraining (and even I'm saying that as a former clerk).  Is your council a member of the National Association of Local Councils?  If so, I'd strongly suggest an approach to your County Office
we are a member of NALC and sadly our local association is useless - they won't act or intervene without approval of the whole council and when the whole council bar me is as lacking in knowledge and training as the clerk is on some things we go round in circles and no approval would ever be agreed!
You are absolutely entitled to ask questions as an individual of your county officer.  Start by asking for information on FOIs and SARs.  Ask for guidance on recommended practice.  That's non controversial and a good starting point.   I understand that they won't retrain without support of the council but start small and work your way up to that.
Good idea - gonna do that right now. Thank you
0 votes
The council has an obligation to respond to Freedom of Information Requests & SAR's unless they are deemed to be vexatious, the information requested isn't held or a valid exemption can be cited.  IMHO these should be considered part of the day job in the Clerk's contract of employment.  If it really does take so long to answer them, perhaps the clerk needs to be better trained and/or the Council's data systems need to be reviewed & improved.  How many of the FOI requests are for data that is already help in accordance with the Council's publication scheme?
by (34.9k points)
Exactly it should and is part of their contracted work. Many FOIs have been generated because the clerk refuses to answer questions - also part of their job. In fact the clerk often quotes 'I don't answer to individual councillors I answer to the council' which is a misrepresentation of the fact that councillors are allowed to expect the council's employee to answer questions and asking questions should not be seen as a councillor giving an instruction. I have even asked if an FOI is necessary - I wanted a copy of the audio recording made of a meeting - the clerk responded submit an FOI which they promptly then rejected arguing the recording was just to assist them with the minutes! THAT issue has now gone to the ICO as a complaint as they were appalled at the clerk's lack of understanding of the law around FOIs and the fact that previously when I had submitted FOIs for the audio of meetings she had complied and given them to me!
Sadly this sounds like a classic case of a clerk responding incorrectly to Freedom of Information Requests, and being held to account about that,  Then the clerk finds that their fobbing off tactics aren't working when the requestor persists in trying to get the information they are entitled to.  So they then try to persuade gullible councillors that too much of their time is spent dealing with FOI's.
The Clerk may use them as an aide memoir for minutes,  but if the council have paid for the recording equipment and recording media (SD cards, memory sticks etc) the audio recordings are technically information held by the council and form part of its property.  Your clerk could be worried worried that they may reveal her minute taking is inaccurate or missing key information.
100% agree - I think they are worried about releasing the tapes because the evidence of their incompetence through untruths and made up nonsense is exposed. The same recently happened when I started filming meetings and they argued that they could not be filmed, Despite showing them the law and the NALC Legal Notes they persisted in arguing they shoudnt be filmed persuading. the chair that I was disrupting the meeting and threatening to have me removed under standing orders!

Welcome to Town & Parish Councillor Q&A, where you can ask questions and receive answers from other members of the community. All genuine questions and answers are welcome. Follow us on Twitter to see the latest questions as they are asked - click on the image button above or follow @TownCouncilQA. Posts from new members may be delayed as we are unfortunately obliged to check each one for spam. Spammers will be blacklisted.

You may find the following links useful:

We have a privacy policy and a cookie policy.

Clares Cushions logo Peacock cushion

Clare's Cushions creates beautiful hand made cushions and home accessories from gorgeous comtemporary fabrics. We have a fantastic selection of prints including Sophie Allport and Orla Kiely designs and most covers can be ordered either alone or with a cushion inner. Buying new cushions is an affordable and effective way to update your home interior, they're also a great gift idea. Visit our site now

2,921 questions
5,669 answers
8,013 comments
10,044 users
Google Analytics Alternative