Freedom Of Information

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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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 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…)

FOI: Tracking how those big-money grants get spent is perhaps more important than ever

Cranes across Liverpool during the last spending boom.

With a general election within sight, it’s perhaps no surprise that after four years of belt-tightening, the Government big-money spending announcements have begun again. Away from the headline-grabbing HS3 plan to put a  super-fast railway line between Manchester and Leeds, the Government has been busy announcing big-money grants to promote growth in the local economy. This round of grants alone works out at billions of pounds across the country – so it’s a safe bet details of these grants will begin springing up in election materials, both for the Government parties and also for those local councils who have sought to get the money. But how well will the money be spent?  (more…)

FOI Friday: Begging arrests, restorative justice and the many languages spoken in schools

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Rise in arrests for begging < London Evening Standard

A homeless charity says an increase of almost 90 per cent in arrests in London for begging is allowing more drug addicts to get treatment.

Statistics released by the Metropolitan Police under the Freedom of Information Act show 730 people were arrested on the city’s streets for begging in 2013/14, up from 385 in 2011/12.

The increase has coincided with  targeted police campaigns in central London over begging, including  moving on and arresting eastern  European rough sleepers.

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FOI Friday: What gets stolen from shops, dangerous animals in Chester, zero hour council contracts and finds by police diving teams

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What is being stolen in shoplifting incidents? < Exeter Express and Echo

A £22,500 shotgun has been stolen from an Exeter store and was never returned, it has been revealed today.

The vintage weapon was stolen in March this year according to new information about shoplifting in the region from Devon and Cornwall Police.

The spreadsheet documenting every incident of shoplifting in Devon and Cornwall for the last three years was released by the force under the Freedom of Information Act.

Devon and Cornwall Police said a Hussey and Hussey, double-barreled gun, was removed from the Exeter store “by unknown means” between March 4-10.

Sexual misconduct in South Yorkshire Police < Doncaster Free Press

Nine South Yorkshire police officers have been disciplined following allegations of sexual misconduct made by colleagues.

Allegations were made between 2010 and March this year, according to details released under the Freedom of Information Act.

Dangerous animals on the prowl – allegedly < Chester Chronicle

Cheshire is one of the most dangerous places to live according to 999 calls – that is if you are scared of tigers, pumas, panthers and lynxes.

A tiger has been spotted prowling along the banks of the River Dee, a lynx with paw prints as big as a “human hand” killing sheep, cats and chickens, and a large wild cat terrified a caller who was sure it was at large in Tarporley town centre.

Details of the 999 calls, revealed to The Chronicle through a Freedom of Information (FOI) request, show that Cheshire has one of the highest rates of big cat sightings in the country – with nine sightings reported to Cheshire Constabulary between 2011-April 2014.

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FOI Friday: Babies missing from care homes, absent pupil fines, stalking laws and sexting complaints

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Schools starting to make use of fines for absent pupils < Harrogate Advertiser

An investigation by the Advertiser series has found that nearly eight times more fines were issued in North Yorkshire, year on year, in the first quarter of the new rules.

Countywide, there were 95 fines issued from September to December, compared to 12 the previous year.

And for the Harrogate district there were 18 fines issued – compared to zero the previous year.

A spokesman for North Yorkshire County Council said: “From last September, schools have not been able by law to allow pupils to be absent from school during term time unless they receive an application in advance from a parent that the child lives with, and there are exceptional circumstances relating to the application. It is completely at the headteacher’s discretion to decide what are exceptional circumstances.”

Are the police making use of new stalking laws? < WalesOnline

The number of suspected stalkers detained by police in South Wales is “disappointing”, a leading charity has said.

The Paladin National Stalking Advocacy Service said the nine arrests made by South Wales Police since stalking became a crime in November 2012 should be much higher.

The data, released under Freedom of Information laws, reveal that the force made seven arrests between April 2013 and March this year on suspicion of a stalking offence.

Since April, two people have been arrested.

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