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Posted: December 23, 2011 in odd requests of 2011
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Councils quizzed on Santa, Napoleon and aliens in 2011’s most wacky FoIs
LGA media release 23 December 2011
Alien invasions, the return of Napoleon and a crash landing by Santa are some of the more bizarre topics councils have been quizzed about by residents this year.

A list of the top 10 unusual Freedom of Information (FoI) requests submitted to local authorities reveals an appetite for information ranging from obscure miscellany to the surreal.

The list was compiled by the Local Government Association (LGA), which represents more than 350 councils in England and Wales.

Last year local authorities received more than 197,000 requests for information under the Freedom of Information Act (FoIA). The cost to local government of responding to them was an estimated £31.6 million.

While many requests are for details of council policy and expenditure, some residents and organisations have sought to use the act to seek information of a more unusual nature.

West Devon District Council officers were surprised to be asked what support the council would be offering to local troops if Napoleon “and his marauding hordes” should land in the district and stage another attempt at invading Britain.

A Merseyside resident clearly thought a threat to national security was more likely to come from outer space than a long-deceased military leader, and wrote to the fire and rescue service asking what contingency plans were in place to tackle an alien invasion.

Elsewhere, in Cheltenham, council officers were quizzed on whether they had made preparations for the unlikely event of Santa and Rudolph making a crash landing in the borough this Christmas.

Cllr Peter Fleming, Chairman of the LGA’s Improvement Board, said:

“Local authorities are now the most transparent part of the public sector.

“People only need to log on to their council website now to see more information on where councils spend money than has ever been published before.

“Across the country, hundreds of Freedom of Information requests are sent to local authorities every day. Councils are committed to transparency and accountability and put a lot of time and effort into ensuring that legitimate requests for information are met with full and comprehensive responses.

“However, as this list shows, some of the requests councils receive do not appear to relate very closely to the services they are focused on delivering every day of the year.

“Councils work very hard to keep local communities running as efficiently as possible and anything which distracts from that can affect the value for money that taxpayers receive.”

The top 10 unusual FoIs received by councils in the past year are:

1. How does the council plan to help the brave soldiers of our infantry if and when Napoleon and his marauding hordes invade the district? (West Devon District Council)

2. What preparations has the council made for an emergency landing of Santa’s sleigh this Christmas? Who would be responsible for rescuing Santa? Who would be responsible for rounding up the reindeer, and who would have to tidy the crash site? (Cheltenham Borough Council)

3. How many drawing pins are in the building and what percentage are currently stuck in a pin board? (Hampshire County Council)

4. What preparations has the council made for a zombie attack? (Bristol City Council and Leicester City Council)

5. What plans are in place to deal with an alien invasion (Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service)

6. How many holes in privacy walls between toilet cubicles have been found in public lavatories and within council buildings? (Cornwall Council)

7. How does the council manage to cope with the vagaries of Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle? How does it function given the inherent unpredictability? (Wealden District Council)

8. How much money has been paid to exorcists over the past 12 months? (Cornwall Council)

9. Provide details of uniforms worn by Civil Enforcement Officers including descriptions of embroidered logos and markings, as well as any difference between summer winter wear. (Allerdale District Council)

10. What is the total number of cheques issued by the council in the past year, and how many did it receive? (Scarborough Borough Council)

ends

Notes to editors

Contact: Simon Ward, LG Group Media Office, Telephone: 020 7664 3333

1. Councils in England received 197,737 Freedom of Information requests in 2010 according to latest research from the Constitution Unit at the University College London (UCL). It found that the average request took 6.3 hours to process – equivalent to £160 in officer hours. In 2009 the average time taken by a local authority to process an FoI request was 8.9 hours.

The research is available from University College London’s website:

FoIA 2000 and local government in 2010: The experience of local authorities in England

2. The number of FoI requests sent to local authorities has more than doubled since 2007, according to the UCL research.

3. Last year, 6.3 per cent of requests for information from councils under the Freedom of Information Act were refused

4. Public bodies can refuse a request if it is considered to be vexatious, it would cost too much to comply or if the information is exempt from disclosure.

More information on reasons to refuse requests are available on the Information Commissioner’s Office website:

What are the reasons to refuse a request?

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23 December 2011

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