Council asked for dragon defence information

A dragon descending on Wigan? Maybe not!
A dragon descending on Wigan? Maybe not!

COUNCIL bosses in Wigan have been asked to explain what plans they have to defend the town from an attack by dragons.

The request for details of the council’s dragon defences was just one of the bizarre cases dealt with by officers this year in a bizarre freedom of information request.

Council bosses are now calling on time-wasters to think twice about burdening the cash-strapped local authority with unnecessary requests.

Freedom of Information (FOI) enquiries - which the council are legally obliged to answer under transparency guidelines - cost the town hall £100k last year.

Coun Terry Halliwell, cabinet member for customer transformation, said: “The number of requests has dramatically increased - they can take a long time to process and can be very labour intensive, and there is a cost implication.

“We are, however, working hard to make sure that most of our information is made available online on our website, which should reduce the number of enquiries we have to process as FOIs.”

In 2013 the council dealt with 1,110 requests at a cost of £124,875 compared to 489 requests in 2009, costing £55,012 - meaning an increase of 127 per cent.

Coming into force in 2005, FOI laws handed the public the chance to ask for recorded information from public bodies. A request must be processed within 20 working days, which has on occasion proved a difficult task for the council’s reduced resources and workforce.

The quest for information has been taken advantage of with reasonable requests for how much the council has spent on football pitch maintenance mixed in with questions about how many exorcisms have been funded in the borough or what measures to deal with a dreaded dragon attack.

In January this year, a total of 160 requests were made, the majority of which were made by the public (52 per cent), commercial enterprises (22.5) and journalists (17.5). On average, around 100 FOI enquiries are made each month.

Earlier this year the council was criticised after failing to release information as part of a leading trade union investigation about funds paid to private landlords.

Having missed the deadline, the information was made available to workers’ union GMB and council offices told the Evening Post that the FOI system would be reviewed.

To deal with the recent increase, the council will be investing in additional support for its FOI team and making as much information as possible online.