10 good examples of FOI in action from the local, regional and national media:
1. Unpaid parking fines < < < Scunthorpe Telegraph
Just shy of £250k has gone unpaid in Scunthorpe over the past three years. Not a new FOI request theme, but a relevant one: If councils are so hard up, then why not chase the money which they’ve spent money to issue the fines for in the first place?
2. Credit card spending of senior police officials < < < Yorkshire Post
We’ve seen FOI requests before for the credit card spending of senior policemen, or councillors or council chief executives – but how many police authorities issue credit credits to their chief executives? In Cleveland they did – and the spending seems incredible.
3. Charging for policing < < < Cumberland News
In Cumbria, the police have charge organisations £100,000 for covering events such as music festivals. No controversy here – unless you believe all policing should be free – but interesting numbers all the same.
Remember this from last week?
It appeared on the front page of the Scunthorpe Telegraph. Clearly, Amanda was very keen to meet up with the friend of the fireman.
But did it happen? The Scunthorpe Telegraph’s edition this week covered the advert which graced their front page the previous week, with an article on page 3 which included a quote from my post about the advert from last weekend (I think some might describe this as the media eating itself, but it did describe me as a ‘senior figure in the newspaper industry which, while incorrect, does massage my ego somewhat, so we’ll let it pass.)
The short answer is no, Amanda’s mystery man hasn’t made himself known. Judging by the article in the Telegraph, Amanda wasn’t keen to elaborate on her advert – not even her surname is revealed. The only facts Amanda did release were that she hadn’t yet got in contact with the mystery man she met, and that the meeting took place in Huddersfield’s Revolution bar (after their game with Scunthorpe, hence the advert in the Telegraph).
I wasn’t convinced this advert was for real when it first began circulating on footie forums, and then, inevitably, on Twitter.
Here’s the front page of Thursday’s Scunthorpe Telegraph:
Look at the advert on the right-hand side. Looks a bit bland, doesn’t it? But it’s not the design which is interesting, so much as the words:
As determined efforts to follow up a chance encounter go, it’s right up there with hiring a plane and flying a message over Scunthorpe’s ground at their next home game. And who knows, perhaps even more expensive: According to the 2008 Northcliffe rate card, a half-page ad run-of-paper costs £849. That ad is smaller, who knows what’s happened to ad rates, but it is on the front page … That’s one heck of a message Amanda has to pass on. Obviously, the actual advert in the paper had her phone number on it….
Here’s hoping that the lad’s mate was really a fireman … (and that the Telegraph follows this up as a story next week)…
1. What public sector workers look at online
I think it’s safe to say this one could run, and run, and run. A freedom of information request to the Department for Transport revealed the top 1,000 most visited websites from Department for Transport computers. Some amusing surprises in there.
2. Alternative therapies in schools
According to a freedom of information request reported in the Birmingham Mail, schools in the city have spent £1.5million on alternative therapies for staff and pupils, including massages. The firms paid the cash was called Herriots and Millward.
3. Data Protection Act breaches in police forces
The Manchester Evening News this week revealed that a memory stick containing details of drugs informants had been stolen in a burglarly from a police officer’s house. Greater Manchester Police was so keen for the public’s help in cracking this case that it didn’t even mention it for over a week. Coincidentally, an FOI request from the Cambridge News demonstrates the value of using FOI to ask police forces for the number of Data Protection Act breaches. 12 staff were caught breaking DPA rules, including one person putting information on Facebook. If ever you’ve done the ‘lost and stolen data’ FOI, it might be worth broadening it out in future to include any DPA breaches.
With cutbacks looming, FOI request success stories relating to public spending seem to be rising, and dominate this week’s round-up of FOI stories from across the UK:
1. The fines issued to motorists for driving without due care
Remember the famous story about the motoring ticket handed out to the driver who was eating an apple at the wheel? The Birmingham Mail due up a heap of other random reasons for getting a ticket when it used FOI to ask West Midlands Police to list the things people get up to behind the wheel – using a water pistol being one of the more surreal.
2. Blackberries and laptops at the council
The Northern Echo reports on the number of Blackberries and laptops handed out ‘for free’ to senior staff and councillors. The paper also found out, via the information released, that several councillors had returned their laptops and insisted on paying for their own broadband. With tight times ahead, could this become an interesting political issue at councils up and down the country?
3. Challenging what the council says
An interesting use of FOI, rather than one which instantly replicable across the country, from the Bath Chronicle. The council there raised eyebrows when it employed an expensive troubleshooter. The council’s defence was that it had led to reduction in the amount spent on consultants for various projects. Only it hadn’t, as the paper revealed using FOI.
1. Delayed or cancelled operations
The Deadline News Agency in Scotland reports on an FOI request by Jackie Baillie, the shadow health minister north of the Border, which lifted the lift on the number of operations being called off each week in the country.
2. Spending on prison lessons
Levels of spending on lessons for prisoners are falling in Wales – so says the Western Mail, using figures released under FOI. The amount spent on classes has fallen 7%.
3. Lives lost needlessly at hospital
The Swindon Advertiser used FOI legislation to ask how many Serious or Untoward Incidents were reported at the local hospital over the last 16 months. The findings revealed that there were 35 such cases, nine of which resulted in the death of patients.