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  By a Newsnet reporter

A single individual has made 13.5% of all Freedom of Information requests to the Scottish Government, costing the taxpayer almost £24,000 in administration fees - roughly equivalent to the annual salary of a newly qualified nurse.  The individual, who has not been named but is not thought to be a Parliamentarian, was identified last month by First Minister Alex Salmond, speaking in a response to a question in Holyrood, as a "Labour party researcher".

In response to a Parliamentary Question from Jamie Hepburn, Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon confirmed that a single person put in a total of 85 requests, six for internal review and one appeal to the commissioner.  These represented 13.5% of all FOI requests made to the Scottish Government.

The average cost to the Scottish Government of responding an FOI request is £231, the cost of an internal review is £417, and an appeal to the Scottish Information Commissioner costs £1,250.  The total cost of the FOI requests made by the person is £23,387.

Responding to the news, the SNP has claimed that the person responsible is "wasting taxpayers' money".

Commenting, SNP MSP for Cumbernauld and Kilsyth Jamie Hepburn, said:

"Access to information is important but this one person is just wasting taxpayers' money.

"It is ridiculous that one person has managed to run up a £24,000 bill and take up so much time when the public sector is under real financial pressure.

"Everyone has the right to use Freedom of Information but there is also a responsibility to use it properly not waste taxpayers' money on ridiculous fishing missions."

Previous criticisms

The Labour party has in the past come under criticism for its alleged misuse of the FOI system, which when properly used can reveal vital information in the public interest.  In the past it has been alleged that the party uses the system as a means of trawling for information which can be used to discredit or damage political opponents or those who have, for one reason or another, attracted the party's ire.

George Foulkes, the former Labour MSP and MP who also sits in the House of Lords as Lord Foulkes of Cumnock, made a series of FOI requests while sitting as an opposition MSP.  Many of Mr Foulkes' FOI requests were criticised for being frivolous in nature.  

In July 2007, Mr Foulkes made an FOI request asking for the guest list, a copy of the menu and costs for a dinner hosted by the First Minister at Bute House in honour of Sir Sean Connery to mark the official opening of Parliament by the Queen on June 29 that year.

Expenses

In 2009, Mr Foulkes was revealed as the person who had made an FOI request about the travel expenses of General Sir Richard Dannatt, after the General had criticised the Labour Government over equipment shortages in Afghanistan.  Mr Foulkes was accused of using bullying tactics in an attempt to embarrass the chief of the armed forced.

Mr Foulkes said his questions were "perfectly legitimate" since they related to the use of public money.  However it was alleged that Mr Foulkes was participating in a plot by then Defence Minister Kevan Jones to tarnish the General's reputation in revenge for his criticisms of the MoD's provision of helicopters and other equipment to British forces serving in Afghanistan.  Mr Jones denied the allegation.  

Mr Foulkes' FOI request backfired after it came to light that General Dannatt's expenses claims had been considerably more modest than Mr Foulkes' own expense claims.

In 2009, Mr Foulkes claimed claimed £54,441 in tax free allowances for 94 days attendance at the House of Lords (£579/day), while earning £36,000 as a Parliamentary Consultant to Eversheds LLP for 36 days work (£1000/day).  He also claimed £3061.17 in allowances from the Scottish Parliament between April 2008 and March 2009, while receiving a salary of £56,671.  Some of his claims included "overnight subsistence" for staying in a London flat which he himself owns and has no mortgage on.

Comments  

 
# Marian 2012-11-21 08:09
Unfortunately there's "no holds barred" from the nasty party in its scraping the barrel quest to find something/anything they can use to make personal attacks on their opponents with.

I fully expect that these vexatious FOI requests will substantially increase rather than decrease as we get closer to referendum day.
 
 
# Indy_Scot 2012-11-21 11:10
Clearly this individual does not have a genuine reason for making so many FOI requests other than a having a politically motivated agenda to try and gain information to discredit the Scottish government, which I am sure would finds its way into the unionist’s medias in tray.

With the SNP highlighting this, the public are now aware that Labour will go to any length in pursuit of their negative cause, and are happy to waste taxpayer’s money in doing so.

And yet the BBC Scotland website somehow managed to report this story as,

“SNP criticised over freedom of information attack”

You could not make it up; well you probably could if you worked for the BBC.
 
 
# pa_broon74 2012-11-21 11:19
So, according to the BBC, not only is the SNP criticised for doing (or not doing) things, they're also criticised for criticising other people for doing (or not doing) things.

Also today, there is a story about the new devo[insert jam here] coming from the anti-seperation parties as they now like to call themselves, in it is the line:

"The Scottish government budget is currently funded by the UK Treasury and many financial powers are reserved, leading some to argue that Scotland is not properly accountable for the money it spends."

I take issue with this, the UK treasury doesn't fund anything, we do, it just disburses our money (and seldom in an efficient way.) The report makes it seem as if Scotland pays nothing and is funded by the rest of the UK.

Scotland is funded by itself.
 
 
# EphemeralDeception 2012-11-21 19:40
It is certainly an absurd way to fund a governments finances.

The UK government is not accountable for the excess that Scotland has provided every year for decades. Scotland is then not accoutable for the fraction we get back.

What is also sickening is the extra cost of setting up and operating and administrating this new pathetic percentage of tax we can vary. The admin costs should be paid by the UK treasury to make THEM accountable for such lunacy.
 
 
# proudscot 2012-11-21 11:48
As the cost of these FOI requests are being paid for by taxpayer funded money, and no doubt also coming out of the Scottish Government's budget, why is the person making them entitled to anonymity? Even if this person is an advisor/researcher to any political party member, then why should they not be as publicly accountable as any MP/MSP, when alleged to be misusing taxpayers' money?
 
 
# zorbathejock 2012-11-21 14:04
Maybe we should apply under the FoI for this person's name.
 
 
# MAcandroid 2012-11-21 15:01
 
 
# rapid 2012-11-21 16:16
With respect, I fundamentally disagree with the statement by the SNP. Every citizen has the right to request a FOI, no matter if they are an annoying politician or the man on the street - if the requests were not legitimate then they would not have been fulfilled.

As a community councillor, I used FOI requests for our community to expose issues and help our community work from the right information.

They are a valuable tool and enshrined in our rights. Just because one individual decides to request 85 of them - the government must not send the message out that it does not approve of FOI.

Perhaps the data officers at the SG should look into how they should make the process cheaper and easier. All businesses have to deal with Data Subject Requests by law and therefore make provision in their systems and processes to perform this task.

For 1/2p for each citizen per year - the FOI legislation is worth it.
 
 
# pmcrek 2012-11-21 18:26
Couldnt agree more here, the larger problem I see is the media's reluctance to highlight the political usage of FOI requests rather than the system itself.

As The_Healthy_Ske ptic says below everything should be published. diseminated or freely available online. Not just from Governments, but from ALL political parties that benefit from public funds.
 
 
# The_Healthy_Skeptic 2012-11-21 17:16
I thik the simple answer is for the Scottish Government to publish EVERYTHING online with free access all the time. Hide nothing, do not wait for someone to request it. Publish as a matter of course.

If this one individual is requesting legitimate information, then they can be denied it on the grounds that they are costing the 'tax payer' too much.

Do we want a free and open society or not? I do.
 
 
# graememcallan 2012-11-21 19:03
I like that idea, THS.

These frivolous requests are just like the Edinburgh Tram project, an attempt to ruin fledgling Independence ideals, and funds.

An annual limit on FOI requests needs to be determined;-)))
 

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