Coventry Telegraph

FOI Friday: 10 stories which show how FOI helps local media make a difference

FOIFRIDAYLOGO

This week is Local Newspaper Week, run by the newspaper industry and the Newspaper Society, to promote the important work done by the local and regional press. The theme this year has been ‘making a difference’ - highlighting the campaigns regional newspapers have run which have helped change the communities they live in for the better.

Meanwhile, various famous and important folk have explained how they feel local newspapers make a difference for them.  There are many ways local media can make a difference for the better – be it a newspaper, a newspaper’s digital presence, or a hyperlocal site which has no roots at all in the ‘traditional’ media – but the way I wanted to focus on today was the use of Freedom of Information (FOI).

Journalists get a lot of stick for the way FOI is used to generate stories, but there are very few who disagree with the principle that FOI should help hold authorities to account. That’s how FOI used by the regional Press can make a difference. Each week when I am compiling FOI Friday, I find lots of examples of great FOIs which don’t really fit the bill for FOI Friday as they are unique to one area and hard to replicate elsewhere.

So, this week, I thought I’d share 10 FOI stories I’ve seen which fit the bill of having the potential to make a difference:

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FOI Friday: Air bag thefts, obese toddlers, asbestos in schools and the £26,000 chairs

FOIFRIDAYLOGOHow much is a broken arm worth? < Eastern Daily Press

Victims of crime in Norfolk have been awarded compensation payments of up to £370,000 for injuries including a broken arm, collapsed lung, and even serious brain damage, new figures have revealed.

Data from the Criminal Injury Compensation Authority (CICA) show that in the past three years it has awarded payouts totalling £5.8 million to victims of crime in the county.

The list of more than 850 payouts, obtained by a Freedom of Information request, includes compensation for injuries including £370,000 for moderate brain damage, £43,500 for the loss of an eye and £93,000 for a permanent back injury.

The obese toddlers who are treated in hospital for being fat < WalesOnline

Obses toddlers are among almost 100 Welsh children deemed so fat they have been taken into HOSPITAL for treatment, WalesOnline can today reveal.

Dozens of kids – some just pre-school age – have been admitted to hospital with a primary diagnosis of obesity in recent years, according to the nation’s health boards, with some treated for ‘extreme obesity’ so serious it could lead to heart failure.

At least 97 children aged under 15 have been diagnosed as so overweight that they needed round-the-clock care from doctors and nurses – a statistic branded “repugnant” by chair of the Child Growth Foundation Tam Fry.

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The 12 days of Local Pressmasness 12: Great front pages

pressmanessAnd it was all going so well. 11 days, 11 numerically-themed pieces which look at different aspects of the regional and local press. And then I get to day 12 – it should be the easiest of the lot, 12 great front pages.

I didn’t want to do just 12 front pages I liked – I’d probably be biased towards titles I work with, which maybe I am in the list below anyway – because that would too subjective. Instead, I wanted to do 12 front pages which showed the regional Press off at its best, but which also told stories about the way the regional Press is going, or where it’s come from.

And so I end up with 20 (more if you include the others I’ve referenced here too). That’s the beauty of grammar I guess – I’ve just moved the colon in the headline a bit so it’s still correct – it is the 12th post, it’s just far more than 12 front pages.

I’ll try and explain the whole thinking of the 12 days of local Pressmasness tomorrow.

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The 12 days of Local Pressmasness: 9 angry football clubs

pressmaness

Rows between football clubs and local newspapers are nothing new. But in 2013, I believe we saw a shifting of the sands which will eventually change the way we cover football clubs for the better.

A quick appeal on Twitter earlier this week asking for football clubs which had fallen out with, or banned, their local newspaper, brought a swift selection to choose from.

So what does it all mean? To me, it’s proof that the regional press needs to become a more vocal, independent voice on matters relating to their football club, and less scared of the threat which hangs over many relationships that if the paper steps out of line, privileges will be withdrawn.

The question I would pose in that situation is ‘What special privileges do we get these days?’ In many cases, but by no means all, the answer is not very much. I know of football clubs which stick 11am embargoes on ‘exclusive’ interviews for regional press websites, even though it’s appeared in the print edition at 6am. The five-hour window is normally to give the club website ‘exclusive’ digital content.

The clubs now consider themselves content providers, connecting directly with fans and, in many ways, competing with us. There’s a lot the local media can learn from some of the things clubs do – full coverage of the press conference online within minutes – but there’s also one big thing the club’s can’t hope to compete with us on – our independence, which is valued by fans who criticise when they feel we’re too close to clubs and not speaking out when we should.

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FOI FRIDAY: Council lunches, old drug mules, doctor spending and the smoking ban legacy

FOIFRIDAYLOGOWhat’s on the menu for councillors? < < < Sunday Mail

SCOTLAND’S biggest council have increased their spending on gourmet dinners – while hiking the price of meals for OAPs and the vulnerable.

Glasgow City councillors slashed the subsidies for welfare meals in a bid to save £306,000.

The Labour-controlled local authority hiked the cost of lunches at social work services day centres from 81p per day to £2.97.

Under Freedom of Information, the Sunday Mail obtained the menus for all official banquets at the council’s George Square HQ since the new Labour Council were elected in May last year.

When the Malawian High Commissioner visited in January, he and his fellow guests were treated to “Medallions of Salmon on Wilted Greens” finished off with “Raspberry and Passion Fruit Delice”.

At a civic lunch in honour of the Duke of York, Prince Andrew, last June, diners enjoyed “Chicken Roulade with Mushroom and Tarragon Mousseline”.

Spending on locum doctors < < < Carlisle News and Star

Hospital chiefs in north Cumbria plan to halve expenditure on locum doctors after spending nearly £19m on them in three years.

Following a Freedom of Information request, the trust released some key statistics about its spending on locums over the last three years.

It revealed that:

  • The highest paid doctor, a consultant dermatologist, was paid a rate of £158 per hour;
  • 527 locums doctors were employed at the hospitals in east and west Cumbria over the last three years;
  • The trust carried out 42,300 operations between February 2011 and January 2013 and cancelled 820 operations in the last two years.
  • Locum spending for the last three years was £5,880,000, £4,954,000 and £7,962,000.

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FOI Friday: Cannabis, university spending, race crimes at the football and asbestos in council buildings

FOIFRIDAYLOGOUnpaid court fines tops £4million – Bedfordshire On Sunday

MORE than £4 million in court fines is owed to courts in Bedfordshire, a Freedom of Information request has revealed.

The figures, released by Her Majesty’s Courts & Tribunals Service (HMCTS), show that last September the amount of fines owed to the county’s courts stood at £4,286,800.

The criminal with 145 crimes to his names – Newcastle Journal

A ONE-MAN crime wave racked up 145 offences in two years, re-offending figures have revealed.

The string of crimes makes the 20-year-old male from Durham the region’s most prolific offender.

He was closely followed by a 38-year-old female and a 45-year-old male who committed 130 crimes each between January 1, 2011, to December 31, 2012, say Durham Constabulary.

In total, the top nine offenders together were responsible for 702 crimes across the force area.

Freedom of Information requests to North East police forces revealed just 19 criminals were behind more than a thousand crimes in the region over the last two years.

1000 council buildings containing Asbestos – North Wales Daily Post

SCHOOLS, leisure centres and public toilets are among more than 1,000 council-owned buildings in North Wales which contain asbestos.

A Freedom of Information request by the Daily Post has revealed that all types of the dangerous substance which is now illegal to use – are found in buildings across the region including the most hazardous material, crocidolite.

The figures showed Gwynedd to have the highest number of buildings containing asbestos with 409 in total, which included Arfon Leisure Centre in Caernarfon, Bangor Swimming Pool and Hafod Y Gest care home in Porthmadog.

Pauper funeral rise in Plymouth – Plymouth  Herald

ALMOST 100 people in Plymouth have been buried in so-called ‘paupers’ graves’.

The depressing statistic paints a harrowing picture of people in the community dying penniless and in isolation.

The figures on state-funded funerals were released to The Herald through the Freedom of Information Act.

But the reality could be much worse, since people who die in hospital are the responsibility of Plymouth Hospitals Trust.

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Ho Ho Ho: It wouldn’t be Christmas without Jesus being stolen … and four other festive news favourites (including Christmas Day babies)….

Mince pies. Turkey. Tinsel. The Queen’s Speech in 3D. Traditions are created all the time at Christmas, and it wouldn’t be Christmas without these five Festive-themed stories…

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FOI Friday: Bad living conditions, school repair backlogs, teen drug dealers and the return of schoolyard compo

 

Revealing the findings of ‘neighbourhood renewal assessments’ – Stoke Sentinel

Here’s one which could run and run across the country. The Stoke Sentinel reports on the findings of a council ‘neighbourhood renewal assessment’ – the likes of which are carried out by councils all over the place.

A NEW report has painted a sobering picture of just how bad living conditions have become in the Portland Street area.

The report, released under the Freedom of Information Act, shows how much conditions have deteriorated at some of the houses.

It is based on surveys carried out at 274 properties, a mixture of private rented and owner-occupied homes, as part of the council’s Neighbourhood Renewal Assessment.

Repairs backlogs at schools – Coventry Telegraph

WARWICKSHIRE schools have a staggering £83 million backlog of repairs.

Warwickshire County Council bosses estimated the cost of getting all the county’s schools up to a reasonable standard of repair.

The figures were uncovered by the Telegraph under the Freedom of Information Act.

The cost of clearing up after police warrants – South Wales Evening Post

I think there’s a better story in here other than the one the South Wales Evening Post has gone with. It reports on the £5k in compensation the police has paid out for repairs to properties which were damaged during ‘negative warrants’ – ie warrants which were executed but didn’t lead to an arrest or seizure of goods. That’s a good story – but looking at the breakdown of negative v positive warrants, almost half were negative. A better story?

120 ‘foreign objects’ removed from patients in Lincolnshire – Boston Standard

Here’s a curious story. FOI led to the Boston Standard to find out that 120 people had ‘foreign bodies’ removed from them in hospital, yet the hospital couldn’t say what those objects were. The Standard used information from elsewhere in the country to talk about the sorts of objects which could be involved.

Teenage drug dealers – Teesside Evening Gazette

SUSPECTED child drug dealers as young as 15 were among those arrested on Teesside, new figures have revealed.

Officers from Cleveland Police arrested 17 suspected child drug dealers last year.

Five were girls held over claims they were dealing cannabis, and six of the boys, including two 15-year-olds, were risking lengthy prison sentences after allegedly dealing in Class A drugs.

The findings were obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.

Escapes from mental health units – Wigan Evening Post

10% of people admitted to mental health units in Wigan escape, according to the Wigan Evening Post.

Cost of overseas patients not paying up – Scarborough Evening News

This story stands out more because of the level of detail released than anything else:

SCARBOROUGH’S NHS Trust is owed more than £30,000 in hospital bills, racked up by overseas patients not entitled to free treatment.

The figures, obtained via a Freedom of Information request to Scarborough and North East Yorkshire Healthcare NHS Trust, show that since February 2009, £33,229.41 has either been written off or is currently being chased by the Trust.

The numbers include £10,297 that the trust is still chasing from a Syrian patient who underwent treatment in May 2010.

The highest amount written off was for £5,701, owed to them from a Thai patient who underwent treatment in August and September of 2009.

The books and CDs you aren’t borrowing from the library – Sunday Sun

Tomes such as Old Scottish Clockmakers 1453-1850 and Agrarian History of England and Wales Volume 5 have lined library shelves untouched for decades.

But surprisingly some popular names were also on our list, compiled from Freedom of Information requests by the Sunday Sun.

When it comes to music, in Northumberland, four copies of Coldplay’s album X&Y were only borrowed once last year, the same number as The Beatles’ Yellow Submarine.

The return of an old favourite: Schoolyard payouts – Leicester Mercury

A schoolgirl who was burnt when baked beans were spilled on her could be in line for a council pay-out of up to £12,000.

The hot food was spilled on the youngster’s neck at a county council-run school. The authority has now set aside thousands of pounds to cover potential compensation and legal costs.

The incident is one of 63 compensation claims made for injuries sustained at county schools during the past four years, according to new figures. But, of the 29 cases dealt with to date, just five have resulted in a compensation pay-out.

The cost of  council sick pay – Birmingham Post

Birmingham City Council spent £35 million on sick pay for staff last year.

And new figures have revealed employees in some departments are taking more than double the national average of days off ill.

The authority spent £34,856,713 on sick pay between January and December last year, according to figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.

The council did not reveal the bill for paying agency staff to cover absences, meaning the total cost will be even higher.

FOI Friday: Private detectives, bus lanes, stray dogs and mental health abscondees

Spending on private detectives

A different take on how councils snoop on people – how much one council spent on hiring private detectives. Answer: £100,000 at Carmarthenshire Council, reports the Swansea Evening Post.

Bus lane fines

Fed up of FOI requests about speeding tickets or parking fines? How about asking how many bus lane infringements have occurred, as reported by the Bucks Free Press.

Stray dogs put down

Rather sad figures from the Coventry Telegraph – they revealed, using FOI, that 10% of all stray dogs rounded up in the city get put down.

Patients walking out of mental health units

An FOI story here which is the result of an FOI by a local MP – correctly credited by the Leicester Mercury. Loughborough MP Nicky Morgan says her FOI research shows 40,000 mental health patients just walked out of units, with over 3,000 of those in Leicestershire.

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FOI Friday: Brothel raids, B&B costs, farm thefts and cautions for violent crimes

1.Houses of multiple occupancy

Kicking off with a story which may not have been sourced under FOI, but which could be: The Liverpool ECHO reports on the number of properties which have been licensed for use as ‘houses of multiple occupancy’, of which just 25% had planning permission? Why is this an issue? Well, if it’s on your street, you’d want to be able protest about it, wouldn’t you?

2. What police seized in brothel raids

Staying with the Liverpool ECHO, this story combines FOI and the sex trade: Asking the police how many brothels they have raided and, tellingly, what they seized when they raided the places too.

3. The cost of housing homeless people in bed and breakfasts

Some interesting numbers from the Wigan Evening Post, which reports, thanks to FOI, that over the past four years, Wigan Council has spent £200,000 on B&B accommodation for homeless people. A problem that’s getting worse in recession times? Apparently not – but what’s the picture elsewhere?

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