FOI

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…)

What Staffordshire County Council’s breakdown of FOI applicants tells us about the authority

The Staffordshire Hoard was a huge find in a field near Lichfield. Staffordshire County Council is less keen on the information treasure hunters daring to use FOI to hold it to account

Staffordshire County Council’s decision to ‘name and shame’ organisations costing it money through Freedom of Information requests has prompted a lot of criticism.

My main bugbear is that, in the scheme of council spending, the cost of handling FOI requests remains tiny, as illustrated brilliantly by the Daily Mirror’s Ampp3d data journalism website here.

Staffordshire County Council’s actions have also concerned the Information Commissioner, with fears that the ‘name and shame’ approach is designed to put people off applying for information this way in the future. Well, that’s one way to reduce council service costs – how long until children receiving free school meals can expect their picture pinned up outside the canteen? An outrageous suggestion of course, but the principle is the same.

Paul Bradshaw makes a very good point that the roll of dishonour published by Staffordshire prompts many questions, and also fails to reveal what people were asking for. In other words, why they were having to use FOI.

Staffordshire argues the list – which appears to be based on the assumption that the minimum FOI cost is £50, which is a flaky position to start from – is designed to show ‘wrongful’ use of FOI. That’s a very subjective position for a publicly-funded authority to take.

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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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FOI Friday: Food thefts, fights at weddings, the impact of Jimmy Savile, noise abatement notices and the 15-year-old with over 12 speeding points

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4,000 crimes involving food theft in Dundee < Dundee Evening Telegraph

Nearly 4,000 crimes involving food and drink theft have been recorded in Dundee over the last five years.

Figures released through Freedom of Information legislation revealed that there were 3,979 unique cases of stolen food and drink between April 2009 and April 2014 in the city.

An incredible 958 — or almost a quarter — of the crimes involved alcohol being stolen.

The next most common items nicked were meat and confectionery, with 869 and 389 crimes respectively.

Fights and crimes at weddings <Torquay Herald Express

POLICE in Devon and Cornwall were called to tackle violence at SIXTEEN weddings and wakes last year after fighting broke out between guests.

They were called to wakes and weddings in Newton Abbot, Totnes and South Brent among other places.

The most serious incident in Devon and Cornwall happened in Exeter where one person was charged with “wounding with intent” after a fight at a wake.

At another funeral in Barnstaple, two people were arrested and one charged with “assault occasioning actual bodily harm”.

Arrests were also made at a wake in Newton Abbot and a wedding in Totnes although no charges were brought.

Noise abatement notices target the strangest places < Manchester Evening News

A Conservative club and two supermarkets were among 1,000 premises served with noise orders telling them to keep it down.

Little Lever Conservative Club, where regulars go for a game of bowls or bingo, was served a noise abatement notice by Bolton Council last year.

The club, which prides itself on its “fabulous bowling green” and “regular bingo nights”, landed itself in trouble last year for being too loud.

Meanwhile, Manchester council issued an order to Sainsbury’s supermarket, on Whitworth Street, and Salford council issued another to Morrisons, on Trafford Road, after neighbours complained about the noise.

Nearly 1,000 noise abatement notices have been served by Greater Manchester’s councils over the last three years.

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Ever wondered how an FOI officer reacts to your FOI request? One man just did…

We’ve all been there. At least, I know I have. You get an email. You’re either infuriated by the contents or by the author – or both – and you decide to let off some steam.

You write, you click send, you realise … you’ve replied to the person who sent the email, rather than forwarding it on to that friendly ear you’d been aiming for.

A quick apology is in order, normally. Fingers crossed the person receiving it calms down quite quickly. The more brazen among us might even try to suggest it was all some sort of wind up, assuming your reply wasn’t too personal.

Yes, it’s awkward, but it could be so much worse … as the FOI officer at the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service found out to his cost this week when dealing with an FOI submitted through Whatdotheyknow?

It all began so well, with an interesting question posed by a member of the public:

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