How FOI revealed a council’s duck slaughter

I’ve heard councillors accuse each other of developing God complexes before now, but never before seen a council decide to act like God.

And we only know Sandwell Council does thanks to Freedom of Information.

When Ian Carroll, a member of a group called Swan Watch, spotted a pest control company in the West Midlands borough rounding up dozens of geese in a council-run park, he decided to catch it on camera:

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Still debating the merits of taking Facebook seriously as a journalist? Facebook might just be about to change your mind…

Facebook’s success depends entirely on the relevance of the feed which appears when people first log in, so it’s no surprise that the secret formula which lies behind that service is constantly under review.

Trying to work out how to make the most of that feed has much in common with some of the more darkish arts which surround making the most of search engine optimisation … with similar repercussions dished out by both Google and Facebook if it thinks people are gaming their systems to get a better show. 

Facebook today announced a couple of new changes to Facebook feeds which should be of particular interest to journalists seeking to ensure the content they produce reaches the widest possible audience.

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FOI Friday: Shoplifted goods, secret council reports, GP police call outs and NHS money in private hospitals

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What gets stolen by shoplifters? < Sheffield Star

Shoplifting is having a ‘devastating impact’ on Sheffield businesses – with daily thefts ranging in value from just 10p to £15,000.

As police today released a rogues gallery of 16 wanted shoplifters, The Star can reveal 11 thefts a day are reported from city shops.

The toll represents an increase of 18 per cent in five years, to 4,211 between April 2013 and this March.

A total of 19,642 thefts from shops was reported to South Yorkshire Police in the five years since April 2009.

Victims of ‘sextortion’ < Sunday Sun

Teens are being lured into online sex chats by blackmailers who threaten to post their naked images on the internet.

Officers have received reports that youngsters in the North are being caught up in the frightening scam, labelled “sextortion”.

Across the country hundreds of victims are targeted by fraudsters who flirt with them to get them to perform sex acts and then threaten to release the images if they don’t receive money from the victim.

What do councils commission internal reports about? < York Press

SECRET reports released this week have revealed concerns about social care, information security, health and safety and budget savings at City of York Council.

The Press has obtained 26 internal reports previously not made public, and council bosses have pledged to end similar secrecy in the future.

The papers, obtained through Freedom of Information (FOI) laws, cover topics from routine school audits to reviews of services for vulnerable older people, health and safety, and information security, and even the sale of scrap metal from Hazel Court recycling centre.

Now council officials have confirmed that in future, reports like this will be published, with redactions, when they are presented to a council committee.

 

Which schools get the most money spent on them? < Surrey Comet

SURREY County Council has spent almost £30 million in two years maintaining school buildings in the county – and a trio of East Surrey schools were atop last year’s bill.

Figures released under the Freedom of Information Act revealed the five most expensive schools for the council to maintain in each of the last two financial years.

In the year 2013/14, the council spent £11,276,200 on building-related maintenance for all schools and de Stafford School in Caterham, Reigate Priory School and Merstham Primary School were among the five most expensive.

The most expensive school was King’s College, in Guildford, which cost the council £667,220 in the last financial year.

Why police get called to GP surgeries < Warrington Guardian

VIOLENCE, harassment and adults fighting are just some of the incidents police were called to at the town’s surgeries and Warrington Hospital in the past 12 months.

A Warrington Guardian Freedom of Information request found officers had been called 72 times to GP practices across the town in the last three years.

During the same period, Cheshire Police were called to Warrington Hospital on Lovely Lane more than 1,600 times however a large proportion of those calls were due to sudden deaths where the police are alerted to ensure there are no suspicious circumstances.

How close to flood defences come to being breeched? < Eastern Daily Press

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What motive lies behind the ‘top 10 wacky FOI requests’ press release?

Newsrooms like nothing more than quirky lists during the long, often slow news, month of August, so a well-time press release from the Local Government Association revealing a ‘top 10′ of ‘wacky’ FOI requests got considerable space last week.

A PR success for the LGA then, but what will have prompted their press release? The Local Government Association is effectively a trade body for local government, and sets its self up to offer advice and support to councils and provide a voice for those authorities to Government.

Back in May, the Campaign for Freedom of Information revealed that local government FOI officers had been asked to supply example of FOI requests which took up too much time, and for data splitting up requesters into different categories – media, campaign groups and so on (so much for applicant blind, eh?)

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FOI FRIDAY: Changing high streets, FGM, hospital crimes and council staff attacks

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How is your high street changing? – East Grinstead Courier

instead is filling up with coffee shops and financial service providers such as banks and estate agents – and residents are not happy about it.

According to a Freedom of Information Act request put in by the Courier, nearly half the change-of-use applications submitted by East Grinstead businesses have seen permission granted to change them into one of these two categories.

And the response from Mid Sussex District Council also reveals that every application – all 17 – made since 2009 to change an East Grinstead shop from one type of business to another submitted to the council has been approved (one on resubmission after an initial rejection).

What crimes are committed in hospital? < Dundee Evening Telegraph

Drug-dealing, shoplifting, sexual assault, vandalism and assaults on police officers — all activities you might associate with a rough housing estate.

However, these are actually just a few of the crimes which have been reported at Dundee’s biggest hospital in recent years.

Figures released under the Freedom of Information Act show nearly 200 crimes have been reported at Ninewells Hospital since 2011, including 62 last year.

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How long does it take new public servants to get bored with FOI?

When the government decided the country’s police forces needed elected police and crime commissioners, the argument centred on the importance of accountability – we, the public, needed to know we could vote on how well the police were run.

Two years on, and with many crime commissioners now in place after winning elections which attracted turnouts as low as 15%, it would appear the idea of accountability is starting to slip – at least when it comes to Freedom of Information.

Whereas the democratic process allows you to hold someone to account just once in a period of time, FOI enables you to hold a public authority to account at a time of your choosing, on a specific subject of your choosing – something the office of the Hertfordshire police and crime commissioner clearly finds irritating.

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Why the only future for football reporting is a ‘fan first’ future

On the day after Sir Tom Finney, the Preston North End legend and a player widely regarded as one of the gentlemen of the game, died BBC Radio Five Live broadcast its Saturday sports coverage from Deepdale, the home of North End.

It was a touching tribute to one of the greats of the game who earned his reputation in a different era of football. That point was summed up when the story about a transfer which never happened was discussed on air.

Sir Tom was wanted by Palermo, the Sicilian side, in 1952 and reports suggested they were prepared to offer Preston £30,000 for his signature, pay Sir Tom much more than he was earning in Preston, throw in a villa and pay for travel between Italy and Preston for his family.

The story goes that then-chairman Nat Buck quashed the deal, saying: “If tha’ doesn’t play for us, tha’ doesn’t play for anybody.” On hearing the story, Five Live presenter Mark Pougatch made the point: “So different from today, it was a time when the administrators ran football.”

Yet in an era when player power clearly does have the upper hand in football, certainly in the top two leagues, journalists and local media can often find themselves at the mercy of excessive demands and expectations of football club administrators in guise of media management. That, in turn, runs the risk of damaging the most important relationship of all: Our relationship with fans.

From insisting all player interview requests go through the club or only making the manager available for one interview a week, to insisting that all news is broken on the club site first and or placing digital embargoes on content which don’t apply to print to ensure the clubs have online exclusives, the demands from many football clubs are little short of draconian.

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Remembering the fallen, 100 years on: How regional newspapers marked the anniversary of the First World War

A graphic used by Trinity Mirror’s regional titles on Twitter and Facebook to mark the 100th anniversary of the First World War

As any photographer will tell you, the right picture will speak many more than just 1,000 words. Today was one of those days when the right picture would do just that – remembering the 100th anniversary of Britain’s entry into ‘The Great War.’

Perhaps the most special thing printed newspapers can do which their digital versions are yet to be known for is summing up an opinion, mood or moment in time with a design which lives long in the memory.

Many regional newspapers in England and Wales today demonstrated that with a remarkable collection of front pages, some of which I have put together in the gallery below:

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Why Government needs to look at itself before accusing councils of lacking transparency

Westminster – stuck in time?

Eric Pickles, the communities secretary, has a similar relationship with councils to the one former education secretary Michael Gove had with teachers.

For some reason, that keep-on-kicking approach Gove adopted with the teaching profession appears to have cost him his ministerial brief in the recent reshuffle, while Mr Pickles gets to, well, keep on kicking.

Many of the things Mr Pickles has pushed on have been welcome: The crackdown on local government propaganda newspapers, insisting councils must allow filming of meetings, and the publication of data on spending over £500. But the devil has often been in the detail of Mr Pickles’ headline-grabbing initiatives.

Several renegade councils continue to publish newspapers in spite of much hyperbole, the ability to film democracy in action is far from guaranteed and spending data is produced in many differing fashions and tells you little about what a council is actually buying. (more…)

Sharing the joy and setting the standard: The strange serendipity between UGC and professional photography

In 2012, Liverpool hosted Royal de Luxe, a French street theatre company who bring huge marionettes to town for remarkable city centre-wide performances. It was a huge hit, attracting hundreds of thousands of people to the city. Here’s one of the Liverpool Echo’s most memorable (to me) pictures of the event in 2012:

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A fantastic spectacle, and if you look at the crowds, you can see plenty of smartphones in action – but I think it’s still safe to say most people are watching it with their own eyes directly, rather than via the screen of their iphone.

Now here’s a picture from last weekend, when the Giants returned to Liverpool for a spectacle which attracted even more people (but remarkably still managed to catch the local train operators off guard!)

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