Suffolk/Essex: Freedom of Information Act requests cost police forces around �1m in five years

REQUESTS under the Freedom of Information Act have cost Suffolk and Essex police forces around �1million in the last five years.

Police have described the requests as an “increasing burden” on limited resources as new figures reveal the number of demands for information has doubled since 2007.

But charities have insisted it is vital that members of the public continue to scrutinise the police’s performance and spending, particularly in a period of austerity and change.

In 2007, 350 Freedom of Information requests (FOIs) were made to Suffolk Constabulary, rising to 657 in 2011.

According to recent analysis by the Ministry of Justice, each FOI costs �164 to process, meaning the 2,626 FOIs submitted to Suffolk police over a five-year period left the force with a �430,644 bill.

Simon Ash, Chief Constable of Suffolk Constabulary, recently told the Leveson Inquiry that the “increasing trend” for FOIs was a significant issue.

He said: “As police resources are decreasing, demand in this area of our business is increasing and adding pressure on already stretched resources.”

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A spokeswoman for the force, which is trying to save �16.1m over five years, added: “Suffolk Constabulary are committed to fostering a culture of openness and accountability, and is dedicated to proactively publishing information, helping to ensure that the communities value and trust the constabulary.”

In Essex, the force received 447 FOIs in 2007, rising to 723 in 2011, the vast majority of which were disclosed in full or in part.

A spokesman said 2012 had already seen a 25% increase on 2011, potentially costing the force �510,027.

Although he stressed the importance of the service, he added: “The volume of requests is increasing and it is a significant burden. I think any authority would say so.”

A spokeswoman for WhatDoTheyKnow.com, a website run by charity UK Citizens Online Democracy that helps people make FOIs, said people have a democratic right to access public information easily.

She added: “Policing is going through a period of change, with cuts to budgets, and the impending elections for Police and Crime Commissioners, so it is important that the public, and those with specific interests, are able to access information on which to base their actions.

“Many of the requests show people using FOI to scrutinise the police’s performance and spending – hopefully the release of such information will help maintain an efficient and effective police force.

“The police will be aware their decisions are on show to the public which should curb excesses – those lobbying for improvements can do so from an informed position.”

Figures for this report came from an FOI submitted by the East Anglian Daily Times.