AUDITORS have suggested Torridge District Council  improves the information it shares with the public in order to reduce the number of Freedom of Information (FOI) requests it receives.

Between January 2022 and February 2024 the council received 1,675 such requests, roughly two every day.

The law allows people to request information from public bodies, which are also obliged to publish certain information about their activities.

The Devon Audit Partnership reported that the majority of FOI requests to Torridge were responded to within the 20-day deadline. They said there was “very large and disparate requests for information submitted across all council operations.”

The authority has one part-time FOI officer who is helped by a member of the democratic services department, the council’s audit and governance committee was told.

Of the 1,675 requests, around 270 were turned down, as the information was not held or held elsewhere, and 116 had exemptions which meant the council didn’t have to give an answer.

Paul Middlemass from the Devon Audit Partnership said there good arrangements are in place to manage FOI requests but said the council should include more details on its website to keep the public informed and to reduce the need for such requests.

A summary of internal audit reports for 2023/24 revealed that Torridge had a ‘sound system of governance’ in its community safety partnership (involving North Devon Council and the police) , section 106 planning obligations (where money given by developers who secure planning permission is spent on local projects) and risk management.

There was ‘scope for improvement’ in the purchasing of goods and services, freedom of information, council tax and non-domestic rates.

Mr Middlemass said the council tax team was struggling to recruit staff and this had an impact on performance. Overall debt from unpaid council tax increased over the last year by more than £1-million.

An action plan to aid debt collection and address this debt was “vital”.

“The reality of how this can be achieved whilst currently under resourced is a big challenge,” said the Devon Audit Partnership.

They added that the good work conducted by the community safety partnership didn’t receive the attention it deserved on social media, or on official council websites.

“The council is therefore missing an opportunity to reassure and inform the public that their safety is being considered,” they said.