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Infographic detailing the FOI data

A freedom of information investigation by printing supplier Cartridge People has revealed just how bad some councils are at keeping records. Originally asking authorities information relating to printer ink spend, one council stated it would need to review individual payments - and would take around five years to do so. As a result, this would have cost the taxpayer £234,000

*Key stats:*

Our investigation involved sending freedom of information (FOI) requests to 93 councils (around a fifth of all principal councils in the UK). It revealed huge inefficiencies in how councils keep records. For example:

- 22% of councils approached failed to respond to the FOI request within the legally-required time limit.
- 56% of councils - for a variety of reasons - couldn’t give us specific figures related to printer ink spend. 46% of councils had no idea what type of ink they used.
Although one council said they could find this information - in around five years - others quoted times of:
-- 46 hours (around 5 working days)
-- 75 hours (around nine working days)
-- 175 hours (around 4 working weeks)
-- 400 hours (around two months)

A freedom of information (FOI) investigation by Cartridge PeopleCartridge People has revealed large inconsistencies in how local councils keep and record information, with one authority stating it would take around five years to find information related to internal budgets.

The council in question, Derby City, was asked how much money they spent on office printers, paper, ink, and toner cartridges over a three-year financial period. While they provided some information, the organisation stated the FOI request exceeded appropriate limits, stating:

“It is not possible to provide the specific details on costs of desktop printers for the years specified. This is because it would involve searching through 562,000 vouchers/payments to determine which related to desktops as this is not the type of specific expenditure that is coded and captured.”

They added: “562,000 records at 1 minute per record = 9366 hours”.

Derby City Council also reported the request for information cost them £125 to process.

Under freedom of information guidelines, a council can refuse a request if it would cost more than £450 to answer. They are also recommended to rate staff time - on the request - at £25 per hour. Therefore, if a request takes more than two days to resolve, authorities will typically refuse.

*Investigation highlights inconsistencies in data retrieval*

As well as Derby City Council, other authorities demonstrated inaccuracies with how data was stored.

Southampton City Council stated it would take around 400 hours of preparation time to answer the request, reviewing 24,000 lines of data at a rate of one minute per line. Whereas Oxfordshire County Council reported it would need 75 hours to locate, retrieve, and extract the information. This would have involved searching 225 site records at 20 minutes per record.

Strangely, Devon County Council stated they had more than 126,000 transactions to review - at five seconds per record.

Some councils also gave a variety of reasons as to why they could not respond to the freedom of information request. Although time was a well-used factor, some councils reported they simply did not keep the information related to printing expenditure and others just paid a lump sum.

One authority, City of Wolverhampton Council, reported they held the data in their “previous financial management system which has now been replaced”.

Andrew Davies, content manager at Cartridge People, commissioned the research. He stated:

“Our investigation has revealed inefficiencies in how councils record information. If I couldn’t produce information relating to how I’d spent my employer’s money, I’d be in trouble. Can you imagine what the council would say if I couldn’t produce details relating to my last addresses or employment history?

“I don’t think this is any different. I also don’t understand why one council stated it would take more than five years to find information relating to their spending. If accurate, that filing system is a tremendous waste of taxpayers’ time and money.”

*A fifth of councils didn’t adhere to the Freedom of Information Act*

Under Section 10 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000, public authorities must respond to a request for information no later than the twentieth working day following the date of receipt. However, of those approached regarding the request, 22% of councils either did not acknowledge the request or failed to respond within the specified time limit.

Only one council gave an excuse for the freedom of information request being delayed and that was due to it being “mixed up” with a very similar one.

Andrew continued: “Our investigation demonstrated inefficiencies at the heart of local government. Yet, we were surprised by the organisations which didn’t even respond to the request in time. As far as I can tell, either they decided to ignore the request or it got lost in the system. Regardless of which option, it demonstrates basic problems with how local councils process and respond to information.”

The request revealed councils were wasting money on expensive printer ink

Gathering data from a fifth of all principle councils in the country, Cartridge People requested information relating to printing costs as well as determining if the body used original branded products (OEM).

43% of the councils approached by Cartridge People confirmed they used original branded products. 56% couldn’t give specific details related to their ink consumption. OEM are original cartridges straight from the manufacturer, such as Canon. However, these are far more expensive than remanufactured ink, generally costing between 40% and 60% more. Remanufactured cartridges are also virtually identical to original products and far better for the environment.

Of those who responded, it was revealed the average council spends £68,694 on printer ink annually. Extrapolating this to all principle authorities within the UK, it is estimated this expense costs councils £28 million every year.

Even assuming just 43% of these authorities are using OEM, a figure which is likely to be an understatement, those councils switching to reusable cartridges could cut their ink costs by a combined £5 million - the equivalent cost of filling 96,000 potholes in England and Wales.

*About this research*

This research was conducted by Cartridge People which sent out 93 Freedom of Information requests to principal councils across the UK. There are a total of 418 of these in the UK so we had a sample size of around 21% (or one fifth).

We asked councils three questions, broadly these were:

- How much money has been spent in TOTAL on office printers, paper and ink and toner cartridges for each financial year?
- Please provide a breakdown of how much has been spent on replacement ink cartridges, printer maintenance and replacement paper for each individual financial year over the same period.
- Could you confirm that all the ink and toner cartridges purchased were original branded products?

*About the author of this press release*

Tom Chapman is a publishing specialist working for CandidSky - a digital agency based in Manchester. The organisation works for Cartridge People on its marketing campaign.

If you have any questions regarding this research or the press release, please email Tom on or phone 0161 956 8963

*About Cartridge People*

Cartridge People is a provider of ink cartridges based in Crewe. The organisation supplies home users, businesses, educational establishments, local authorities and government departments.

This press release was distributed by ResponseSource Press Release Wire on behalf of CandidSky in the following categories: Consumer Technology, Business & Finance, Public Sector, Third Sector & Legal, for more information visit