Council’s poor record keeping highlighted in study

An investigation into council spend has revealed large inconsistencies in how local councils keep and record information and the extent of time it takes to uncover data.

Printing supplier Cartridge People sent freedom of information requests to 93 councils in the UK originally asking for information related to printer ink spend. However, the requests highlighted a much bigger problem which emphasised the large inefficiencies in how councils keep records.

It found that 22 per cent of councils failed to respond to the FOI request within the legally-required time limit, 56 per cent could not provide specific figures related to printer ink spend, and 46 per cent of councils had no idea what type of ink they used. Of more concern, Derby City Council said that they could provide some information but it would take ‘9,366 hours’ to search through the necessary vouchers and payments - which was not the ‘type of specific expenditure that is coded and captured’.

Alongside Derby City Council, other authorities demonstrated inaccuracies with how data was stored, with Southampton City Council stating it would take around 400 hours of preparation time to answer the request, reviewing 24,000 lines of data at a rate of one minute per line, whereas Oxfordshire County Council reported it would need 75 hours to locate, retrieve, and extract the information. This would have involved searching 225 site records at 20 minutes per record.

Andrew Davies, content manager at Cartridge People, said: “Our investigation has revealed inefficiencies in how councils record information. If I couldn’t produce information relating to how I’d spent my employer’s money, I’d be in trouble. Can you imagine what the council would say if I couldn’t produce details relating to my last addresses or employment history? I don’t think this is any different. I also don’t understand why one council stated it would take more than five years to find information relating to their spending. If accurate, that filing system is a tremendous waste of taxpayers’ time and money.”

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