LEP wins Freedom of Information victory

The Lancashire Evening Post has succeeding in its appeal to the Information Commissioner, despite originally being told the office had a backlog of complaints stretching back more than a year.

Last July, deputy editor Mike Hill (pictured) made what he called a "straightforward" Freedom of Information Act request to Lancashire County Council to name businesses which had been prosecuted for selling alcohol to underage children.

The council refused to supply the information, so in January 2006 Hill appealed to the Information Commissioner's Office and was told that, due to the high volume of complaints, he would not hear from them for two months.

He heard nothing in that time and sent two further letters, the last of which was 16 May. He received a letter saying the office was still dealing with requests from April 2005.

After Press Gazette reported the story, Hill's appeal was taken up by the ICO and it has now served a decision notice on the council, which has 30 days to comply with it.

The council must name the businesses that have been prosecuted, but not the individuals, with a caveat that the businesses may have changed hands, which the Post has agreed to.

Hill said: "The ruling vindicates our decision to appeal and would lend support to the view that authorities are not discharging their duties correctly under the act, whether that is through lack of guidance or lack of will to do so.

"However the fact remains, the Information Commissioner still appears unable to deal with the sheer volume of appeals and that must be addressed."

An ICO spokeswoman said: "We regret the process of resolving complaints is taking longer than expected, but we have taken steps to improve both the response time and the quality of investigations and decisions.

"Although we received part of the additional funding we requested from the Government, the constitutional affairs select committee remains unconvinced that we have adequate resources to deal with the high volume of complaints we have received."

Burton Mail reporter David Powles contacted Press Gazette with a similar experience. In December he appealed against a decision not to release details of the pros and cons of a multi-million private treatment centre being built at a local hospital. He was told on Tuesday that the office was still dealing with the April 2005 request.

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