I was surprised not to see a letter in last week’s paper in response to your article in the previous edition about fourteen freedom of information requests made to North Tawton Town Council.  It’s surely a subject that would be expected to elicit a public response.  

A Freedom of Information request should be the very last weapon a member of the public has to gain information so that it can start to redress perceived indiscretions, be that by a business or indeed by their local council.  To find that it is actually an elected member of North Tawton Town Council not being granted access to information in connection with their own council is extraordinary.  

It is very rare for a member of the public to have to go down the route of instigating an FOI request from a council, much rarer is when a sitting councillor has to use the power of the FOI act to get the information they need from their own council to fulfil their duty in representing the public. 

Alarm bells should be ringing.  Why is a council refusing to issue information that should be readily available to any councillor?    

The public shouldn’t have to remind councils of their statuary duties, but it seems we must – all councils should serve the public and all councillors have signed up to a code of conduct, and similarly for the clerk;  within their duties it is not only for them to do right, but also for them to be seen to doing right.  

And councils are required to abide by the rules of transparency, so in fact the need for an FOI request is in itself evidence of a job badly done, either down to intent or incompetence. 

 If a sitting councillor has to resort to filing an FOI request it should be clear to all that the council has failed in its duty to serve the public with transparency and honesty. 

What should be remembered is that most councils do not need an FOI request to provide information that should be freely available, and if any council is unwilling to act with transparency and believes that ‘shooting the messenger’ is the simplest answer they are probably attempting to hide information in dark recesses or sweeping it under a proverbial carpet somewhere. 

I have always thought that the words by Rudyard Kipling “If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools” was aimed at bureaucrats and councillors everywhere.  You be the judge if I’m right.

Michael Fife Cook

Mary Tavy