Devon Mansions: council took TWO YEARS to answer FOI request

The Information Commissioner has ruled that Southwark Council was in breach of the Freedom of Information Act when it took nearly two years to reply to a request for information about a troubled refurbishment programme of a council estate next door to its own HQ.

Devon Mansions: council took TWO YEARS to answer FOI request

We reported last November on the catalogue of failings in the refurbishment of Devon Mansions on Tooley Street which led to spiralling costs, delayed completion and concerns about poor quality:

Devon Mansions: probe into works to council flats as costs spiral by 70%
Works to council-owned blocks of flats on Tooley Street budgeted at Β£5.9 million ended up costing more than Β£10 million, a Southwark scrutiny meeting has heard.

Last month the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) published a ruling on a complaint about the council's handling of a request under the Freedom of Information Act.

A resident sent a request for information about the Devon Mansions project on 10 January 2022. By law, the council should have responded within 20 working days, giving a deadline of 7 February 2022.

Instead, the council took nearly two years to respond, finally issuing a response on 13 December 2023.

The ICO's ruling noted: "The complainant confirmed to the commissioner that they were happy with the response they eventually received, but wanted the extensive delay to be formally recorded"

Cllr Stephanie Cryan, Southwark's cabinet member for communities, democracy and finance, said: β€œWe fully accept the ICO’s decision here that we have not met the required time frame for responding to this FOI request. 

"Any delay is unacceptable, but we are particularly sorry for how long the applicant had to wait. This FOI case relates to a project that is very complex. 

"We are currently reviewing the project, as well as looking at how we can better respond to FOIs about complex issues, so we can ensure such failings cannot happen again, including being transparent and timely with sharing information with residents.”

Southwark Lib Dem leader Cllr Victor Chamberlain said: "Taking two years to respond to an FOI is completely unacceptable, especially in relation to the 'catastrophic failure' of the Devon Mansions major work programme. 

"It is a deeply worrying lack of openness and transparency reflected in the recent independent LGA review that told Southwark they had to improve in handling freedom of information requests.

"Labour's leadership demonstrated their lack of transparency and accountability when they closed ranks and refused to apologise during scrutiny of Devon Mansions major works.

"Former post holders, including the current leader of the council and finance boss, need to be held accountable for the major works scandal they presided over."

Next week Southwark's overview and scrutiny committee is due to receive an update on Devon Mansions. Since the committee's last discussion of the debacle a new cabinet member has taken over the council housing portfolio, with Cllr Sarah King replacing Cllr Darren Merrill in the key role.

A permanent strategic director for housing  has also been appointed to succeed. Hakeem Osinaike takes up the post this week, succeeding Michael Scorer who left the council last autumn.

Tags: Politics & local government, Southwark, Bermondsey

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