A LEADING Copeland councillor has blamed “frivolous” Freedom of Information requests for the authority missing its response targets.

The council resolved 80 per cent within the timeframe of this financial quarter compared to 87 per cent in the same period last year.

But councillor David Moore stressed that the failure was not the fault of hard-working officers but had more to do with the volume of requests flooding in from those abusing the system.

A meeting of the executive heard that officers had been swamped with 143 requests in September alone, not all of them “genuine” or made in the “true spirit” of the Freedom of Information Act.

Mr Moore claimed that “lazy national journalists” and companies on commercial “fishing trips” were among those responsible for tying up officer time.

He said: “There is a level of volatility. One month and you get around 40 to 50 coming in. You suddenly get a month like September where 143 come in and it’s very difficult to manage workloads.

“We have reduced the number of FOIs coming in on an annual basis, but a lot of work is created by frivolous information requests where people are expecting the council to do all the work.

“You also get your companies on fishing trips trying to find out when contracts finish so that they can tender for them.

“I don’t think this reflects on our staff: it’s the peaks and troughs of the workload.

“It is a big cost to the council, and this is an area that has left itself open to quite a lot of abuse.”

The meeting heard that timescales were also affected by the availability of interim cover and that the newly appointed data protection officer only took up post at the end of September.

Speaking after the meeting, Mr Moore said a government review of the Freedom of Information process was needed to prevent people from abusing it.

However, he stressed that the council was quite happy to respond to genuine requests for information.

The authority looks set to achieve 90 per cent of its key targets and met 79 per cent of its key performance indicators.

And in 86 per cent of cases, the council has improved or maintained performance when compared to the same quarter last year.