South Tyneside flouts freedom of information obligations

August 20, 2012 6:05 PM

Last week we produced new research revealing how much North East councils spent on flights to destinations around the world.

Most councils responded fully to our request for information in full and on time. But there was one noticeable omission among the 12 local authorities in the region: South Tyneside.

Our request for information was sent in February and therefore a was due in March, under the rules of the Freedom of Information Act.  So they’ve had more than enough time to respond and plenty of opportunities after repeated prompting by TPA activists. But only on Monday, just a few hours after we had briefed journalists on our findings, did a full response magically appear in our inbox.

South Tyneside revealed that since 2009 they spent over £2,000 on flights to Paris for twinning visits and over £1,100 to the French Capital for a project called “Tyne2Seine”. But perhaps the most astonishing revelation is the £3,250 of taxpayers’ money the council made disappear by paying for guests to attend their International Magic Convention with flights from Gothenburg, New Orleans and Los Angeles.

It’s unacceptable that South Tyneside council has failed to honour their obligations under the Freedom of Information Act. Not only is the council legally required to reply within 20 working days but they also have a duty to justify how they spend every penny of taxpayers’ money. It isn't hard to understand why the council would want this embarrassing information to remain behind closed doors but it simply isn’t good enough.

Councils are pleading poverty and frontline services are being threatened but it’s clear that there is plenty of unacceptable waste that should be cut to save taxpayers' hard-earned money. Full transparency on spending is one of the best ways for local residents to identify waste and improve services and value for money. Councils like South Tyneside shouldn't wait for media enquiries before coming clean about how they spend taxpayers' money.Last week we produced new research revealing how much North East councils spent on flights to destinations around the world.

Most councils responded fully to our request for information in full and on time. But there was one noticeable omission among the 12 local authorities in the region: South Tyneside.

Our request for information was sent in February and therefore a was due in March, under the rules of the Freedom of Information Act.  So they’ve had more than enough time to respond and plenty of opportunities after repeated prompting by TPA activists. But only on Monday, just a few hours after we had briefed journalists on our findings, did a full response magically appear in our inbox.

South Tyneside revealed that since 2009 they spent over £2,000 on flights to Paris for twinning visits and over £1,100 to the French Capital for a project called “Tyne2Seine”. But perhaps the most astonishing revelation is the £3,250 of taxpayers’ money the council made disappear by paying for guests to attend their International Magic Convention with flights from Gothenburg, New Orleans and Los Angeles.

It’s unacceptable that South Tyneside council has failed to honour their obligations under the Freedom of Information Act. Not only is the council legally required to reply within 20 working days but they also have a duty to justify how they spend every penny of taxpayers’ money. It isn't hard to understand why the council would want this embarrassing information to remain behind closed doors but it simply isn’t good enough.

Councils are pleading poverty and frontline services are being threatened but it’s clear that there is plenty of unacceptable waste that should be cut to save taxpayers' hard-earned money. Full transparency on spending is one of the best ways for local residents to identify waste and improve services and value for money. Councils like South Tyneside shouldn't wait for media enquiries before coming clean about how they spend taxpayers' money.

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