The cost of dying goes up
The Scotsman used FOI to find out how much cremation and burial charges had risen as a result of recent spending cuts – in some places it has doubled, while overall the amount raised from such services has gone from £8million to £16million.
The cost of residents permits goes up
Spotting a theme here yet? Maybe. The BBC’s Inside Out programme – ie the programme the BBC bigwigs want to slash the budget of, despite being the only regional current affairs progeamme the BBC currently produces which breaks stories – used FOI to ask councils how much they’d made from residents parking permits in recent years. No surprise, the figure has rised rapidly.
PCTs blocking drugs to save cash
An investigation by GP magazine has revealed that dozens of primary care trusts are blocking access to drugs which have been approved by NICE, the government’s drug approval/rationing (depending on your point of view) agency. The NHS constitution says that any drug approved by NICE should be made available, so this could be an FOI for local newsapers to follow up.
With the spending cuts being brought into sharp focus this week, I thought it’d be a good idea to look at some of the spending-related Freedom of Information requests which have made headlines in recent weeks. At a time when every pound spent is being accounted for, using FOI to keep the public informed of how cash has been used has probably never been more important….
1. The £25,000 website which attracts just 10 visitors a day
Starting this week with the Saddleworth News hyperlocal blog, run by journalist Richard Jones. Richard’s FOI to Oldham Council asked how much was spent on the Oldham Says website, which is run by the local strategic partnership, the sort of ‘multi agency’ partnership which exists in most parts of the country. Just 10 visitors a day suggests they could do better.
2. The doctor paid £5,000 for one shift
The NHS is to see its budget increased but has been challenged to ensure that spending goes to the frontline. The Express and Star in Wolverhampton used FOI to find out how much was spent on agency staff, such as nurses and doctors, and appears to have asked for the single largest payment for one shift too. That figure made the story – £5k for a 24-hour shift in A&E.
3. Taxi to where?
Cost-cutting is already taking effect in Scotland, it would appear. The Scotsman asked for details of all taxi journeys made over the past five years – and found £1.5m had been spent by the Scottish Government on journeys, including £129k on taxi journeys which went just 2.3miles between the Scottish Government’s two bases in Edinburgh. The advice from the Scottish Government to officers now is: “Get the bus.”
A victory in the battle for reports about council investigations
We start this week with a victory for a local paper. The Harrow Observer had tried to get its hands on a report produced by Harrow Council into the theft of £1,500 from the Town Hall. The council refused to release it under FOI and the paper took its fight to the Information Commissioner, who backed the paper. The report, published in the paper this week, gives some interesting background to the case – but there’s still no sign of a conviction.
And a victory in the battle for speed camera information
I’ve mentioned on this blog a few times before that ‘safety camera partnerships’ often refuse requests for details of how many speeding tickets issued by individual cameras. Sometimes they cite the reason that it will impede criminal investigations. However, the Information Commissioner has now insisted that information be released in the case of a campaign group in Devon. With one camera netting more than £1million, on a road which had only serious accident, it’s no wonder they wanted to keep it quiet.
Outstanding police arrest warrants
Perhaps topical given the fugitive who has been on the run in the North East this week, but the Western Mail reports than more than 900 people are on the run from the police. ‘On the run’ is defined as those who have outstanding police warrants against them, and 161 are suspected of the most serious offences going.
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.