Wolverhampton express and star

FOI Friday: Teachers causing concern, prisoners on Facebook, school place fraud and teenage career criminals


Teachers on the ‘concern list’ < Basildon Echo

ALMOST 170 teaching staff are on a council list showing there are concerns about their working in schools.

They are not barred from working, but schools will be aware of the list of concerns, compiled by Essex County Council.

A total of 23 teachers and 14 other school workers have been added to the list in the past five years due to allegations of a sexual nature, according to figures released under the Freedom of Information Act.

Social networks in prison < Daily Record

PRISON bosses last year shut down 80 Facebook accounts run by inmates in Scotland.

The social networking pages were updated using smartphones smuggled into jails and have been used by convicts to taunt victims or contact fellow criminals.

Officials investigated 118 allegations in 2013 that prisoners were running accounts on Facebook from behind bars, freedom of information figures released yesterday revealed.

Caught defrauding the school selection process < Camden New Journal

FIVE children in Camden were removed from school or had offers of places withdrawn after their families were caught fiddling the state admissions system, the New Journal can reveal.

In a response to a Freedom of Information request, Camden Council confirmed it had conducted 11 investigations into potentially fraudulent school place applications between 2012 and 2013. It had opened only two similar probes over the previous two years.

A “fraudulent” application was defined as using a temporary address, using a family member’s address, faking religious observance or supplying false information on application forms.


The 12 days of Local Pressmasness 12: Great front pages

pressmanessAnd it was all going so well. 11 days, 11 numerically-themed pieces which look at different aspects of the regional and local press. And then I get to day 12 – it should be the easiest of the lot, 12 great front pages.

I didn’t want to do just 12 front pages I liked – I’d probably be biased towards titles I work with, which maybe I am in the list below anyway – because that would too subjective. Instead, I wanted to do 12 front pages which showed the regional Press off at its best, but which also told stories about the way the regional Press is going, or where it’s come from.

And so I end up with 20 (more if you include the others I’ve referenced here too). That’s the beauty of grammar I guess – I’ve just moved the colon in the headline a bit so it’s still correct – it is the 12th post, it’s just far more than 12 front pages.

I’ll try and explain the whole thinking of the 12 days of local Pressmasness tomorrow.


The 12 days of local Pressmasness: 6 criminal Grannies


If Christmas is all about giving, then it’s only right we celebrate the Freedom of Information request which keeps on giving – the one about old people and the crimes they first commit.

It’s a bit like The Snowman, or Only Fools and Horses – a repeat which can be guaranteed to turn up at Christmas, but remains compelling all the same.

I first read a story about criminal pensioners – revealed using FOI – in the Bristol Post back in 2009, and they’ve appeared almost everywhere since.

Criminal OAPs were served up as Christmas stories in several places this year.

In Gloucestershire, the Citizen reported that theft was the most common crime pensioners were arrested for, while the Hertfordshire Mercury reported pensioners cultivating cannabis and offending public decency.

As it’s Christmas, and Channel 4 seems to be full of nothing but best of compilation lists, here are six of the best OAPs uncovered thanks to FOI:


The 12 days of local Pressmasness: One ‘bostin’ Nativity

pressmanessThis idea might not work but I’ll give it a go – 12 blog posts celebrating the uniqueness of stuff regional and local newspapers and websites do over the festive period and, in some cases, across the year.

It’s meant to be light-hearted but with a serious message: We have some traditions which can be seen as peculiar but which are also loved by many readers, and reach the parts which other media often don’t, or can’t.

So lets  see how this goes – and start where it all began … Christmas that is, not the regional Press.


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.


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.


Ho Ho Ho: It wouldn’t be Christmas without Jesus being stolen … and four other festive news favourites (including Christmas Day babies)….

Mince pies. Turkey. Tinsel. The Queen’s Speech in 3D. Traditions are created all the time at Christmas, and it wouldn’t be Christmas without these five Festive-themed stories…



FOI Friday: Councils investing in tobacco, sheep worrying, posh cars and NHS exit packages

Councils investing millions in tobacco firms – Carlisle News and Star

Millions of pounds from pension funds held for local authority workers across Cumbria have been invested in major tobacco firms

Cumbria County Council, which also manages pension money for district councils such as Carlisle Copeland and Allerdale, has confirmed that more than £8m of the fund has been ploughed into the tobacco industry.

The information was released following a Freedom of Information request.

NHS redundancy packages soar – BBC

The cost of exit packages paid out by hospitals in the East of England in a bid to cut staff numbers has increased significantly, the BBC has learned.

Figures from 16 hospital trusts, which provided information for the current financial year, revealed the combined spending on staff exit packages had risen more than eight-fold since 2010.

More than £5m has been paid out by the trusts so far in 2011-12, compared with £1.65m the year before and £605,000 the year before that, according to figures obtained from a Freedom of Information request.

The luxury cars driven by council bosses – Liverpool Post

MERSEYSIDE taxpayers are funding top of the range cars for two Liverpool council executives.

City council chief executive Ged Fitzgerald and director of regeneration Nick Kavanagh, are already two of the highest paid officials with salaries of £197,000 and between £120,000 and £140,000 respectively.

But now it has been revealed they have been driving round the city in luxury vehicles paid for by the taxpayer – while the Labour-run council axed £140m from its budget over two years.


FOI Friday: Problem families, housing benefit cheats, kids in cells and unsolved crimes

1. How many ‘problem families’ have moved into your area?

It’s not often it’s worth flagging up an FOI request before a result has come back, but this is a little different. The Ledbury Reporter newspaper reports on how Ledbury Town Council is trying to find out how many ‘problem families’ have been allocated housing in the town from outside the area. According to the council, such allocations take place under an arrangement called the Multi Agency Public Protection Arrangements.

2. Youth clubs which close too early

A little different, but fascinating all the same. Are councils doing enough to keep young people out of trouble in the evening? I suppose it depends on your view as to whether it is a council’s job to keep young people out of trouble. The Evening Standard clearly thought so, asking all councils for the opening and closing times of youth clubs. Most close before 7pm – just before the time of day when young people are, according to the paper, most likely to commit crime.

3. Things seized at court

Ok, so we’ve seen this FOI before, but if ever there was proof that just because it’s been done somewhere else shouldn’t mean you don’t do it as well, it’s this. The Birmingham Mail asked the question of the number of weapons seized at courts. The answer was 40,000. Really.


Is the BBC obsessed with regional newspapers?

The BBC Birmingham and Black Country website on Sunday - the Express and Star story is fractionally more important than the Ashes not coming to Edgbaston, apparently

Maybe it was just a slow news weekend in the Midlands. In fact, I know it wasn’t because I’ve seen what’s passed through the Birmingham Mail website since Friday. So I can’t quite work out why a decision by the Wolverhampton Express and Star to close its printing plant in the city and switch to a sister plant in Telford is such big news.

Birmingham and the Black Country is a big old region population wise. There’s a lot happening. And while it’s interesting for media geeks to know that the Express and Star is closing one of its presses, is it really the fourth most important news story in the region?

The story fails to do what all new stories should do: Address how it might impact the reader. Will the paper be out earlier? Will it have fewer editions? Will it mean a change to the look and feel of the paper – more colour for example? All the BBC reports is that it will mean ‘greater efficiency’ for the title – whatever that means.