FOI

FOI: How expensive can it be to deal with clearly absurd FOI requests?

“I dunno what happened, the council just didn’t like my FOI request”

Another week, another grumble about the Freedom of Information Act from a council. In fairness to St Helens Council, they aren’t in the same league as FOI-haters such as Nottingham City Council, this councillor from Kirklees Council, and Hampshire, Pendle and Cheshire West and Chester Councils.

Their complaint about the public’s right to know, as reported in the St Helens Reporter this week, is that too often people are asking frankly ridiculous questions based on rumours they have heard.

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FOI Friday: Nightmare roadwork roads, self service checkout crimes, cost of PFI and student disciplinary offences

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The roads dug up more than 600 times in a year < Birmingham Mail

Road repairs in Birmingham are causing traffic chaos with some routes being dug up almost every day for the past FIVE years, the Birmingham Mail can reveal.

Workmen have had to carry out maintenance on Birmingham’s Broad Street three times a week since 2009. The entertainment district – known as the Golden Mile – has been dug up an astonishing 684 times.

Yet it is not the most repaired road in the city.

Crime caused by self-service checkouts < Sunderland Echo

FORGETFUL shoppers are turning other wise law-abiding citizens into criminals after it was revealed that cash-back worth £1,260 was stolen from self-service tills in Sunderland in the last three years.

Figures obtained by the Echo via a freedom of information request to Northumbria Police, show thefts are going up year-on-year in line with the increase of popularity of automated systems in supermarkets.

But police say many people do not realise that pocketing cash accidentally left behind at self-service checkouts is theft and will be treated as such. And those caught on CCTV can often find themselves appearing in newspapers and online as part of crime appeals.

Forty-seven thefts of cashback were reported between April 2011 and March this year within Sunderland Area Command, after being left at self-service tills. Thirteen thefts were recorded in 2011/12, increasing to 16, in 2012/13 and 18 in the last financial year.

Youngest fire-arm offenders < Cambridge Evening News

A boy aged just 11 is now the youngest person in Cambridgeshire to be arrested over a firearms offences, shock data has revealed.

Information released by the Cambridgeshire force has also uncovered the youngest children arrested over drugs and sex crimes.

The youngest children arrested over sex offences are two boys aged just 10 years old.

One boy was arrested on suspicion of sexually assaulting a woman and another was arrested over the rape of another boy aged under 13 years old. Both were given a reprimand and no further action was taken.

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FOI: How local journalists make a difference by sticking with a story

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At certain times in the last 12 months, it will have been quite hard to avoid journalists in the West Country as news outlets from across the country followed wave after wave of floods hitting the region.

The 24-hour news cycle, the instant update world of social media and the ease of publishing online have all combined to ensure big events become ones of national focus very quickly. As a result, the thirst to lay blame can emerge more quickly, which in turn can result in big promises and pledges from those in power.

The widespread flooding in the South West resulted in big promises from the Government to get flood defences fixed, and rivers dredged to reduce the risk of a repeat this year.

Almost a year on, and it’s pretty much only the local media who are still covering a story which, for a while, led national news bulletins and dominated websites everywhere .. and as a result are the only ones left to ensure the promises made when the national media heat was at its highest are being delivered.

All of which brings me to the Western Morning News’ Freedom of Information-based story this week which revealed that, with winter approaching, almost of half of the flood defences damaged last winter have yet to be restored:

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FOI: The council and the private contractor who have created a circle of secrecy

Fireworks in Lambeth (Picture: Brixton Buzz)

More curious goings on for FOI requesters trying to get access to information when it involves a private contractor.

In Lambeth, the website Brixton Buzz has been trying to get to the bottom of how an annual local fireworks display, traditionally run by the council, will operate now they, with a private operator, are paying for access.

It asked for a copy of the ‘overlay plan’ which set out how the event would be managed.

Details of the plans had been circulated for consultation to local organisations and good journalism resulted in Brixton Buzz getting a copy, and then sharing it on their website.

Their aim was to get the views of the community. Bear in mind the fireworks used to be free to watch and involved the local council, paid for by the local community.

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FOI Friday: Absestos claims against councils, zero hour contracts, councils with millions in the bank and police encounters with men in fancy dress

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Absestos claims made against councils < Manchester Evening News

own hall bosses throughout Greater Manchester are facing a ‘ticking timebomb’ of mounting claims from people struck down with conditions linked to deadly asbestos.

Manchester council paid out almost £600,000 in damages to victims in the last year alone, an M.E.N. investigation has found.

The 2013/14 claims had to be settled using taxpayers’ money, rather than through insurance as the cases predated the 1980s when the council did not have asbestos cover.

Figures obtained under Freedom of Information requests reveal victims of asbestos-related diseases have won a total of £1.8m in damages from councils in Greater Manchester in recent years.

Councils stash millions in banks < North West Evening Mail

MILLIONS of pounds of taxpayers’ money is being stored in investments and bank accounts by councils across Cumbria.

Cumbria County Council has a portfolio of £177.7m in a range of banks, despite making sweeping cuts to front line services.

Copeland District Council holds £55.5m, Barrow Borough Council has £16m in accounts while South Lakeland District Council has £17.3m.

The figures have been revealed thanks to a Freedom of Information request submitted by the Evening Mail.

Chances of a rape conviction < WalesOnline

Alleged rape victims in Wales are among the least likely to see their cases end in a conviction.

Figures released under a Freedom of Information request to the Ministry of Justice show defendants are more likely to plead not guilty and walk free in Wales.

Barely a fifth of rape cases (22.8%) in magistrates courts in South Wales led to a conviction in 2013, one of the lowest conviction rates in England and Wales.

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FOI Friday: Alcoholics refused transplants, council staff chasing lonely hearts, neglected pets and patients in the wrong hospital beds

FOIFRIDAYLOGOAlcoholics refused liver transplants < Birmingham Mail

Eight Birmingham patients denied liver transplants because they could not convince doctors they would stop boozing after the life-saving surgery later died, shock figures have revealed.

In the last five years, 12 patients with alcohol-induced liver disease at University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust were turned down for a new organ as they could not show that they would abstain from alcohol once they left hospital.

Now eight of those patients – two of which were in their 30s – have since died, according to the figures obtained under a Freedom of Information Act request.

Council officers seeking out lonely hearts websites < Chroniclelive

Lonely hearts working on computers at a North council have racked up more than 14,000 hits on dating websites in six months.

Staff at Sunderland City Council made the hits on Match.com, Plenty of Fish and OKCupid from staff computers between January and July this year.

According to the data, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, there were 14,635 hits to the three sites.

The Council said personal use of the internet was permitted providing it took place in an employee’s own time.

Pet neglect in Scotland revealed < Evening Times, Glasgow

Figures released from Police Scotland showed officers investigated 55 cases during 2013 and more than 300 in six years.

The figures, covering the Glasgow area from 2008 to 2013, showed an average of 55 cases each year, and exactly 55 in 2013.

Of the 2013 cases, 36 resulted in court cases and 19 were unresolved. No details of the cases have been revealed but a Scottish SPCA spokeswoman confirmed that one of the most recent to reach court involved a bearded dragon with its tail hacked off by a knife.

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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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