Council says too many FOI requests have hit America’s Cup plans for Portsmouth

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A SENIOR council officer has warned that a barrage of Freedom of Information requests about this year’s America’s Cup World Series have hampered preparations for the sailing spectacle.

Culture and city development boss Stephen Baily said ‘significant’ time had been spent by his team responding to questions about the event this summer, which was affecting work they were trying to get on with in other areas.

Residents have every right to seek recourse through the Freedom of Information Act where the request is not vexatious.

Old Portsmouth resident Sameen Farouk

Dozens of questions have been received, all of which have to be looked into under the terms of the act.

They have ranged from asking what ‘hospitality’ deals staff have received from organiser Team Origin to what is being done to accommodate disabled visitors.

Tory culture official Councillor Linda Symes said staff had been left ‘visibly upset’ by accusations that they had received gifts from the event organisers when they had only ever received ‘a cup of coffee each’.

A report into the matter was discussed at a meeting which saw the green light being given to Southsea Common being used to host the cup qualifiers this July.

Mr Baily said: ‘With reduced resources to support events and activities, this has had a detrimental effect on the preparation and planning for this event as officer time has been required to answer the public questions at the expense of time needed to plan for any future events.’

In a letter to Sameen Farouk – one of the residents making FOI requests – Mr Baily said 21 requests contained 97 separate questions since April 2015 – with the ‘variety and scale’ of these being ‘considerable’.

Mr Baily said he had spent ‘five hours over the last weekend’ reviewing the information, while one FOI took 12 hours to respond to.

While Mr Baily said he did not want to undermine the FOI process, he warned ‘the demand on culture and city development generally and this event service in particular only increases’ and capacity to carry everything out in light of budget cuts is ‘shrinking’.

But, defending his actions, Mr Farouk said it was important the council was held to account.

He said: ‘I take responsibility for my part in the concerns raised and I will respond to Mr Baily’s letter.

‘Residents have every right to seek recourse through the Freedom of Information Act where the request is not vexatious.

‘The council can publish a disclosure log setting out what information has been released and what has not, which helps to reduce duplicate requests.’

Cllr Symes added: ‘There are great positives with the Freedom of Information Act. But sometimes, are some of the questions asked under FOI appropriate?

‘The vast majority of people in Portsmouth welcome the America’s Cup and the economic impact on the city.’

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