FOI Friday: The cost of unions, the cost of dying, the cost of parking … and escaping prisoners

The cost of dying goes up

The Scotsman used FOI to find out how much cremation and burial charges had risen as a result of recent spending cuts – in some places it has doubled, while overall the amount raised from such services has gone from £8million to £16million.

The cost of residents permits goes up

Spotting a theme here yet? Maybe. The BBC’s Inside Out programme – ie the programme the BBC bigwigs want to slash the budget of, despite being the only regional current affairs progeamme the BBC currently produces which breaks stories – used FOI to ask councils how much they’d made from residents parking permits in recent years. No surprise, the figure has rised rapidly.

PCTs blocking drugs to save cash

An investigation by GP magazine has revealed that dozens of primary care trusts are blocking access to drugs which have been approved by NICE, the government’s drug approval/rationing (depending on your point of view) agency. The NHS constitution says that any drug approved by NICE should be made available, so this could be an FOI for local newsapers to follow up.

Fining parents for truancy

This story from the Bolton News is a good demonstration of an FOI which is worth revisiting every year, and one which also proves how effective a government initiative has been. The Bolton News asked the local council for details of the numbers of parents fined or taken to court for truancy – a big Labour headline-grabber at the time. In Bolton at least, it’s a power which is being used more often now.

Hoax calls

The scale of the problem of hoax 999 calls is revealed by the Southport Visiter in an FOI request which showed that more than 3,000 hoax calls were made in Sefton – quite a small area – in the last three years.

The cost of union officals on the public books

The debate about whether the public purse should be used to pay for union officals has been going on for some time at a national level, but the Brighton Argus has applied a local angle to the story after asking councils and the police for how much they spent paying for staff who spent most of their time on union matters.

Where council employees live

Interesting stuff in the Islington Gazette, which reports how FOI has revealed how few staff working for Islington Council actually live in Islington. The question the newspaper asks is: Given unemployment is rising, why aren’t more people from within the borough employed by the council?

The cost of nibbles at a meeting

Ok, so the ‘how much does X spend on refreshments at meetings’ FOI is almost as old as the act itself, but this take is still quite good. It asked for the number of meetings refreshments were provided at, thus giving an average figure of spend on refreshments per meeting. There must have been a lot of people at these Department For Education meetings to justify £40 in refreshments. Or very expensive biscuits.

School kitchens

What did environmental health inspectors find lurking in school kitchens? Camden Council has recently released documents under FOI thanks to a request made via Whatdotheyknow.com

What did people who escape from prison do to end up in prison in the first place?

Another good one from whatdotheyknow.com – what offences did people who escaped from HMP Hollesley Bay commit to get there in the first place? It turns a ‘x number of people broke out of jail’ into a ‘Murderer escaped from jail’ in this case.

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