Companies accused of wasting Broadland taxpayers’ cash on Freedom of Information requests

Companies have today been accused of wasting Broadland taxpayers' cash by 'abusing' Freedom of Information (FOI) laws.

And it was claimed staff at Broadland District Council are being deprived of providing frontline services because they are having to deal with requests from profit-making firms.

The FOI Act gives people a chance to unearth details on council spending and other information, which may not be easily attainable.

Broadland estimates it spends �14,425.44p a year on responding to questions and believes this will increase to near �15,000 due to a rising number of requests.

A study of a three-month period between March and May revealed Broadland received 191 requests, with each one taking an average of 56 minutes to complete - the maximum amount of time allowed without a charge is 18 hours. Broadland believes commercial sources submitted 63pc of the FOIs, the media 17pc and MPs 2pc.

And Kim Davis-Claydon, cabinet member for operations and resources, told today's cabinet meeting: 'Nearly �15,000 is an awful lot of money in the current economic climate and there's lots of better ways to spend it.

'The principle of the Freedom of Information Act is great, when used properly, but I really feel the commercial world is abusing the system.'

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She added: 'We've officers who should be worrying about delivering frontline services getting information to companies who will make money out of what we provide free of charge.'

Malcolm Black, Broadland admin manager, said: 'I've no reason to believe any other councils are having a different experience.'

Norwich North MP Chloe Smith and Broadland MP Keith Simpson are to be lobbied on the matter.