COUNCIL staff in York have become slower at dealing with Freedom of Information requests, forcing new measures to be introduced.

The number of FOI responses made by City of York Council within the 20-day deadline laid down by law fell from 87 per cent in 2011/12 to 77 per cent in the first three months of 2013/14, the authority’s own findings have shown.

An internal review has shown the importance of meeting FOI rules is “not consistently recognised” by council staff responsible for answering requests, while internal deadlines are not set to ensure responses are made on time and delays are often caused by a “complex” process. A list of “key improvements” has been produced, with the council intending to publish the time taken to respond to requests and the estimated costs of dealing with them on its website.

An FOI request from The Press for documents surrounding the abandoned 2011 sale of Union Terrace car and coach park did not receive a full response for 21 months, and then only after a complaint to the Information Commissioner.

A report by Pauline Stuchfield, the council’s assistant director for customer and business support services, and Max Thomas, director of the authority’s internal audit body Veritau, said a new 15-day internal response deadline will be introduced and senior officials and service chiefs will see all requests.

It also said “clearer arrangements” for identifying requests which are exempt from FOI legislation, incorrect or duplicated will be made. The changes are due to be brought in over the next three months.

The council received 954 FOI requests in 2012/13, 150 more than 2011/12. Between April and June this year, 288 requests were made, raising the monthly average from about 80 in 2012/13 to 96. The report highlighted North East Lincolnshire Council. which has improved its 20-day response performance from 83 per cent to 99 per cent in three years, and North Yorkshire County Council as “exemplar” councils for dealing with FOIs, but said requests were becoming more complex and some were “targeted and repeated”.

Maurice Frankel, the UK Campaign for Freedom of Information’s director, said: “Many authorities would say they are under pressure and have other priorities than FOI, so it’s refreshing and impressive that York is unhappy with its poor performance and falling standards and wants to improve it.”