DORSET Council is still slipping on its targets for information requests – although performance is said to be improving.

The authority continues to fail, at times, to meet the 20-working day target to respond to Freedom of Information requests, often running at up to 150 each month, the majority relating to children’s services.

Reaching targets has been made more difficult by repeat and vexatious requests which take up a lot of officer time, councillors were told.

The place and resources scrutiny committee was told that requests to children’s services are often complex with the need to redact sensitive personal information from reports, although much of that work has been outsourced to an external company which has software which is able to automatically redact certain types of information.

Many of these are historic requests relating to how children came to be taken into care and how their cases were then progressed to fostering or adoption, or returned to their birth families. Many of their case files run to hundreds of pages.

A previous report noted that one request alone involved looking at more than 13,000 pages, equivalent to about 440 hours work.

Manager Marc Eyre, who oversees the work, told the committee on Tuesday that in many of the cases where the authority had failed to meet the 20-day target it was often only by a small amount.

“Overall our performance has improved and is moving in the right direction,” he said.

Mr Eyre told councillors that the department currently had the equivalent of two full-time staff working on requests, but needed to increase that to the equivalent of 3.2 staff to hit the target and to tackle a backlog which had built up.

Council leader Cllr Spencer Flower said he was happy with the progress being made: “It isn’t perfect and there is still work to be done, but we will see an improvement and get back in line with what we want to achieve.”

The committee was told that plans were being prepared to publish the requests made and their responses which it was hoped would help reduce the number of similar requests being made.