plymouth herald

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: Saying sorry to dodge court, parents smacking children, arsonists wanting to work in schools and the safety of bail hostels

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Saying sorry to get away with violent crimes < Eastern Daily Press

Fears over the misuse of restorative justice measures have been raised after the revelation that Norfolk Police have used informal agreements to deal with more than 7,000 crimes since 2010 – including almost 3,000 violent offences.

The measures can be used by officers instead of prosecutions and can include an apology or compensation to the victim. The resolutions were introduced in order to cut down on police red tape, and prevent the criminalisation of young people.

Figures gained following a Freedom of Information request by the EDP show “community resolutions” – which involve the victims of crime – have been used in 4,362 cases since 2010, and “extended professional judgement” – which are settled just by officers – 3,205 times in the same period.

People reported to the police for smacking their own children < Exeter Express and Echo

More than 100 parents across Devon and Cornwall have been reported to the police for smacking their child over the last five years.

Figures released following a Freedom of Information Act request reveal a dramatic rise in the number of smacking reports last year, up from 17 in 2012 to 43 in 2013.

Devon and Cornwall Police say this spike could be due to “enhanced awareness” of the issues surrounding smacking.

A search of the force’s database revealed 108 crime logs relating to a biological parent smacking a child aged 17 or under between January 2009 and February 2014.

Thieves and arsonists caught applying for jobs in schools < The Lincolnite

Theft, assault on a child, arson and assault with bodily harm were among the crimes flagged up by Disclosure and Barring Service checks (DBS) on people applying to work in Lincoln schools.

According to data obtained through a Freedom of Information Request by The Lincolnite, a total of 85 convictions, cautions, warnings and reprimands were highlighted by DBS checks requested by Lincoln schools in the last four years.

The crimes recorded on the Police National Computer (PNC) were released on certificates where individuals applied for jobs at educational institutions in the postal areas LN1 to LN6.

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FOI Friday: Teachers ignoring FGM advice, fines for school parking, food shoplifting and hospital repairs backlogs

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Teachers ignoring FGM guidance < London Evening Standard

Less than half of headteachers in London have read official guidance on stopping female genital mutilation, new figures revealed today.
The guidance, which tells teachers how to identify girls who are at risk or who have suffered mutilation, was emailed to every school in the country. But data from the Department for Education shows that only 56 per cent of heads in the capital even opened the email after it was sent to them by Education Secretary Michael Gove last month. An even lower proportion — 45 per cent — then “clicked through” to read the guidance , meaning that headteachers in 1,724 London schools have ignored the effort to prevent the abuse.

Parents targeted with fines for bad parking near schools < Birmingham Mail

Birmingham City Council has declared war on selfish parents blocking roads around schools by handing out almost £140,000 in fines in a year. The major crackdown saw increasing numbers of mums and dads caught flouting parking laws after the council deployed surveillance camera vans. Last year 1,974 penalty charge notices (PCNs) were dished out – a 25 per cent rise on the previous 12 months. The crackdown followed concerns about the rising tide of potentially dangerous parking around school times. Some areas are brought to a standstill by the huge numbers of parents leaving their vehicles on verges, blocking drives and even parking over zigzag road lines next to school gates.

Compensation claims for wrongful arrests and other things < Plymouth Herald

DEVON and Cornwall Police has paid out more than £1.3 million in compensation to members of the public over the last four years. Since 2009 a total of 460 claims have been made following incidents including collisions involving police vehicles, unlawful detention, wrongful arrest, negligence and bites by police dogs. The force has also had to pay out for successful claims for harassment, bullying, damage to property, defamation, use of excessive force and unlawful seizure. There was also one successful claim, resulting in a £500 payout, for ‘misfeasance in public office’.

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FOI Friday: Ambulance call out hot spots, crisis fund rejections, Premier League policing and missed 101 calls

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Most frequent ambulance call out homes < BBC

The Welsh Ambulance Service is urging people to think before dialling 999, after one home rang for an ambulance 290 times in a year.

Of the call-outs to the property in Colwyn Bay, Conwy, 98 resulted in hospital visits.

The service spent 3,660 hours dealing with the “top 10″ frequent emergency callers in north Wales last year.

The cost of police and crime commissioners < Northampton Chronicle

The number of staff employed by Northamptonshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner has almost trebled and the wage spend nearly doubled in the 18 months since he started his job, latest figures have shown.

A Freedom of Information request revealed PCC Adam Simmonds employed 12 staff in his office at an annual cost of £729,100 when he began his new role in November 2012.

By March 31 this year, the number of staff had risen to 34 and the associated costs had increased to a total of £1.4 million.

Analysis of all the staff structures used by PCCs at all the other police forces in England revealed Mr Simmonds had the largest amount of employees under his direct control.

Crisis fund applications rejected < Inside Housing

English councils turned down more than 70,000 applications for emergency housing assistance last year, despite £9 million of funding being handed back to government.

Research by Inside Housing has revealed that while 153 councils underspent their discretionary housing payment allocations in 2013/14, others turned away thousands of applicants and still spent well over their allocated amount.

Responses by 203 councils to freedom of information requests showed 249,457 applications for DHP were received in 2013/14. Of these, 70,486 were refused, with 41,639 of the rejections made by councils which spent at least 95 per cent of their allocations.

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FOI Friday: Air gun attacks, stressed out students, pauper funerals and troubled families

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Bedroom tax rent arrears < Wolverhampton Express and Star

Out of 3,803 Sandwell people affected by the removal of the Government’s spare room subsidy, 2,432 have now fallen into rent arrears.

But the Labour-led council has not yet evicted anyone for falling into arrears as a result of what has become widely known as the bedroom tax.

The numbers of people in arrears and affected by the policy were revealed under the Freedom of Information Act after a request by a member of the public.

Troubled families < Brighton Argus

Nearly 1,000 problem families have been identified in Brighton and Hove since the launch of a Government scheme nearly two years ago.

The Troubled Families programme was launched as part of a scheme to get children off the streets and to help families get back into work.

According to a Freedom of Information request, the city council has identified 963 “troubled families” in Brighton and Hove and has so far “turned around” 317 of these.

Prisoners in your area < Daily Post

More than a third of all North Wales prisoners are from a single county, latest figures reveal.

There are a total of 857 from the region behind bars at prisons in England and Wales – 308 of which originate  from Flintshire.

The county also has the third highest number in Wales  – beaten only by Cardiff and Swansea.

The next highest in North Wales is Gwynedd with 163 prisoners followed by Wrexham (129), Conwy (118), Denbighshire (90) and Anglesey (49).

The figures, based on data up to December 31 last year, have been released following a Freedom of Information request to the Ministry of Justice.

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April Fools Day, as told by the regional press

According to Martha Gill, writing in The Guardian, Twitter has killed April Fools Day. Why? According to Gill, the fact that you see hundreds of brilliant jokes on Twitter, day in, day out, means the idea of a once-a-year occasion to make up funny stories is no longer required.

Bobbins. If anything, social media has made April Fools’ Day all the more important, while ‘the internet’ in general has made it more important for news brands to take on human traits – not least the ability to try and make the audience smile, and laugh with them.

April Fools’ Day is a bond between reader and news provider – the one day of the year the reader will tolerate something completely made up, so long as it’s done for the right reasons. On any other day, that story would be just be made-up fiction, risking the credibility and trust the audience has with that brand.

On April Fools’ Day, however, there’s a licence to be as creative as you want. For regional media, creating an online presence which people want to engage with involves joining in the things the readers are doing online. I think April Fools’ Day will get bigger online for the regional press in the years to come, not least because it removes the dilemma of whether the regional press should indulge in April Fools’ Day at all.

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FOI FRIDAY: HIV cases rise, council spending on credit cards, school transport appeals, active GMC investigations and more

FOIFRIDAYLOGOHIV cases rise sharply < < < Plymouth Herald

THE number of people who have tested positive for HIV in the city in the last five years has risen by 60 per cent, The Herald can reveal.

Figures from Derriford Hospital’s GUM Clinic, released to The Herald under a Freedom of Information Request, show that in 2008/2009 the number of people who tested positive for HIV was 28. During the last financial year, 2012/2013, that figure rose to 46.

Numbers of parents winning appeals to get help with school transport costs < < < Gloucester Citizen

UTS mean fewer parents are now entitled to get help in paying for school transport – and appeals cost Gloucestershire County Council nearly half a million pounds.

However, despite these payouts, the county council is still on target to save £1.5million on school transport by 2016.

Figures obtained in a Freedom of Information request show that in 2012-13, 89 of 113 appeals were granted, 100 of 165 appeals were granted in the previous year, and in 2010-11, 87 of 139 appeals were granted. That resulted in the council paying out £506,000 in 2012-13, although this includes money paid out for successful appeals and reviews in the previous year.

However, the number of appeals heard and the number granted fell last year.

How councils are spending money on credit cards or ‘procurement cards’ < < < Express and Star

Taxpayers have footed a bill of £7.5 million spent on council credit cards in the West Midlands in a single year – with executives using them to fund foreign trips, hotel stays and even meals at KFC.

Officers in local authorities have used them to pay for visits to Paris and Venice, a tour of Arsenal Football Club and even pay off parking tickets slapped on cars by their own council’s wardens.

An investigation by the Express & Star has revealed five councils spent a total of £7.5m in just one financial year – on almost 1,500 ‘purchase’ or ‘procurement’ cards that are used by their staff.

They have bought two patio sets costing a total of £640.38, three SpongeBob SquarePants cushions at £11.97, eight ukuleles for £159.92 and a bowler hat priced £9.99.

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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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FOI FRIDAY: Asbestos, Facebook, police cells and sham marriages

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10 good examples of FOI in action from the local, regional and national media:

1. Asbestos found at public buildings – Milford Mercury

Asbestos, known as the silent killer, is regularly the subject of health and safety campaigns – so an FOI which reveals that the majority of council buildings in an area contained asbestos, although often in non-dangerous uses, has the potential to make waves.

2. Prisoners communicating by Facebook – Yorkshire Evening Post

I’ve seen a few stories about those behind bars using Facebook to taunt victims, witnesses and so on – but this is the first time I’ve seen FOI used to find out how many Facebook accounts have been investigated by prison authorities.

3. Health and safety deaths and injuries in the workplace – Bradford Telegraph and Argus

A good example of why ‘open data’ will never give the public as much power as the right to ask for information. This FOI asked how many deaths in the workplace had been recorded by the Health and Safety Executive in the Bradford area, and the number of injuries recorded. The amount of detail per case varied.

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FOI Friday: 10 things we’ve learnt thanks to the Freedom of Information Act this week

1. Schooling ‘on the cheap’

Schools are bound by the Freedom of Information Act,  but have 40 days to reply. That can make FOI-ing schools a bit of a challenge, but the results can pay off, as demonstrated by the Norwich Evening News this week. It found that high schools in Norwich are employing a growing army of unqualified staff to look after lessons.

Under an agreement on the use of  ‘cover supervisors’ in schools, the supervisors are only supposed to hand out lesson plans prepared by teachers, and to maintain order. They should also not take classes for more than three consecutive days. But asking questions of schools under FOI, the News found 16 admitted they had used the staff in such a way in 2008/9 – with a total of 143 occasions where the three-day limit was passed. Six said they could not access the information and 11 failed to answer the request.

2. The North East rail fiasco

The Journal reported on the nationalisation of the East Coast mainline this week. The Tories used FOI to get hold of correspondence between National Express, the operator, and the Government about its financial plight. The Tories suggest the documents show the government was aware of financial problems long before they became public. It looks as though FOI may be a key way of getting info out of government for the opposition parties ahead of a general election – although it does beg the question as to why politicians have to resort to FOI at all.

3. Run down universities

The Edinburgh Evening News reports on an FOI request to the Higher Education Funding Council for England, which  compiled a database on the state of buildings owned by universities. At one Edinburgh university, surveyors judged more than 40 per cent of the university’s lecture theatres, libraries and other non-residential buildings as “inoperable” and “posing a serious risk of major failure and breakdown”.

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