TAXPAYERS are being "short-changed" by Fife Council who have been branded as having a "cavalier attitude" to freedom of information requests.

That's the belief of consumer rights expert Scott Dixon, who has been successful in taking a complaint about the local authority to the Scottish Information Commissioner, Margaret Keyse.

The council was asked about pothole repairs in February but said they didn't hold any information falling within scope of the request.

However, they have now been rapped over the knuckles as it transpired that they did have the details he had asked for, following an investigation carried out by Ms Keyse.

Scott told the Press: "Members of the public and Fife taxpayers rightly expect Fife Council to provide accurate and truthful responses to FOI requests.

"Fife Council blame Covid and bad weather for everything, whether it's pothole repairs or not being able to provide transparent responses to FOI requests.

"I should not have had to refer this to the Scottish Information Commissioner.

"There are clearly systemic issues in this area, which the commissioner has noted in her findings and clearly has concerns about as this is not the first time a spotlight has been shone on this.

"Yet again, Fife taxpayers are being short-changed by Fife Council who simply have a cavalier attitude to those who simply ask questions which require accurate responses."

Disruption to working arrangements caused by the pandemic and long-term absence were blamed by the council for the difficulty in finding the records when they concluded in March that they were not held, although they were later located.

But Ms Keyse's report said: "The commissioner is not satisfied that the council carried out adequate or proportionate searches to determine what, if any, recorded information it held falling within scope of ... the applicant’s request, prior to responding to his request or after he asked for a review.

"At the very least, the scope of any searches undertaken must be called into question.

"Had adequate and proportionate searches been undertaken by the council at the time it received the applicant’s request, it is highly likely that relevant recorded information would have been identified.

"The commissioner appreciates that the Covid-19 pandemic has placed unprecedented demands and restrictions on the ability of authorities and their personnel to be able to work normally and to have access to all of the systems and records ordinarily available to them.

"However, the pandemic does not relieve any Scottish public authority from the obligation to identify all sources reasonably likely to hold information sought in a given request and to ensure that all of those sources are searched adequately."

Ms Keyse found that Fife Council failed to comply with the Environmental Information (Scotland) Regulations 2004, in responding to the information request made.

However, as the details asked for have now been provided, she determined that no further action was required by the council in response to the failure.

She added that their intention to ensure that more detailed searches will be carried out in future should ensure any systemic issues in this area are addressed fully.

Scott said: "It is clear to me that there is a questionable culture within parts of Fife Council where certain staff members deliberately give vague and misleading responses to cover up for their own negligence and deny accountability and blame."

The council's Laura McDonald said that they work hard to make sure FOI responses are accurate and timely.

She added: "We've now supplied the information requested and no further action is being taken."