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.”
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.
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.