STRATTON St Margaret Parish Council says it cannot pay £450 to provide basic information to the public despite offering a £50,000 salary to an incoming clerk.
It is now undergoing an internal review after taking more than 20 days to respond to a Freedom of Information request from resident David Wright and a complaint has also been lodged with the Government ombudsman.
Meanwhile, the council is recruiting for a permanent clerk on a salary of between £49,936 and £56,330 a year.
Under the Freedom of Infor-mation (FOI) Act 2000, anyone can ask any public body for information on any subject, and under the law the body is obliged to respond to requests within 20 days.
But on Monday, March 10, some seven weeks after Mr Wright submitted his request, the council refused to provide the information because it said the work would cost more than £450 to provide – the maximum threshold outlined in the legislation.
John Foley, chairman of the council, said it would take a staff member almost two days’ work at £250 per day to collate the information to answer the requests, which included questions about severance payments, staff wage scales and the profits made from Grange Leisure Centre.
Mr Foley said: “We were going through a very bad patch at the time Mr Wright sent the requests and there were things that didn’t happen that should have happened and this was probably one of them.
“But the number of questions requires a lot of work and a lot of detail, and it would take an awful lot of time to do. It’s very vexatious. A lot of the information, like the services we offer, is also available on the website, for everyone to see. But I would like to ask Mr Wright to meet me to discuss the issues and answer his questions at a time convenient to him.”
He also said information about staff wages was excluded under Section 40 of the act as personal data, despite releasing similar data as a result of a similar FOI request in 2011. “As for the requests about staff pay, that’s confidential information,“ he said.
On March 12 Mr Wright asked Swindon councillor Dale Heenan to complain to the Information Commissioner on his behalf.
Coun Heenan (Con, Covingham and Dorcan) said: “When Stratton parish concentrate on community activities like the festival they do a good job, but you really do have to question their priorities. Stratton refuse to answer questions because it’s too expensive, and refuse to publish this year’s budget, but are the only parish in the country to advertise for a new clerk with a salary for £50,000, pension and relocation package.
“This is more money on one job than every other parish in Swindon spends in a year.”
In response, Mr Foley said the council had made savings on staff salaries, and was required to provide a salary according to a scale set by the National Association of Local Councils.
He said: “I am quite ambivalent about the salary rate. He or she will be required to manage a £1.5m business.”
For more about FoI requests submitted to Stratton St Margaret Parish Council, visit www.whatdotheyknow.com/body/stratton_st_margaret_parish_council