Today, Kent Liberal Democrat Leader Antony Hook challenged County Council bosses over failures to answer requests for information from Kent residents within legal time limits.
Speaking at today's meeting of Kent County Council's Policy & Resources Committee, Mr Hook said the county's failure to meet its legal obligations was deely troubling and must be urgently addressed.
Under the Freedom of Information Act, people can ask public sector organisations for information they hold. The request has to be answered within 20 working days. The information must be provided unless an exemption applies. Exemptions include that it is sensitive personal information or a legal duty of confidentiality applies. If the request is very large, legisation says Kent can charge a reasonable cost for providing the information.
In GDPR subject access requests, people may request to see information the council holds about them.
If the county fails to comply with its obligations, the Information Commissioner can impose heavy fines, which ultimately will be paid by Council Taxpayers and take resources from important services.
Commenting on the importance of data protection and freedom of information, Antony Hook said,
"This is an issue of principle.
"As an accountable organisation, the County Council should make information easily available to the people who own the council - 1.6 million people who live in Kent. The council belongs to the public.
"The council must be open and transparent in everything it does. It needs to improve its information systems to make this happen.
"Subject access requests are a matter of privacy and every business in Kent knows that your obligations in GDPR have to be complied with. The Council should be setting a standard for others to follow, not falling short. If the Council holds information about you then you have a right to know what it is."
"Conservative Cabinet Members have previously told me they find these legal obligations an annoyance. That just underlines that the Conservative Party in Kent does not believe in accountability and wants to keep the public in the dark."
Kent County Council data showed that over the last five months for which data is provided, the council fell far short of its own targets in every month.
Over the course of the last year 18% (nearly 1 in 5) Freedom of Information requests were not completed within 20 working days.
In the same time 35% (more than 1 in 3) subject access were not dealt with within required time limits.
Worringly, the council bosses are proposing the reduce targets for compliance for the coming year.
Mr Hook said,
"We should be doing better for the people of Kent, not worse. Reducing the targets for doing what the law says the council should do is unacceptable."
Responding to Mr Hook's comments a senior council official has promised a further report on the issue with a plan for action.
Mr Hook said,
"I am pleased that raising this issue has led to a promise of better. We will be watching this issue closely on behalf of people in Kent."
Link: Reports from today's Policy and Resources Committee. (see page 60 and 68 of 132)