FOI Friday: Ten things discovered this week thanks to the Freedom of Information Act

The Freedom of Information Act has helped make the headlines several times in the last week. First, Panorama’s programme on Monday – which dominated the news agenda during the day – was based on FOI, having asking each police force for a list of crimes which resulted in a caution being issued. That question is still well worth local journalists asking their police force.

Meanwhile, it transpired that the legal team of Sharon Shoesmith, the maligned ex-head of social services in Haringey, had been forced to resort to FOI to get hold of Ofsted reports relating to her department which Ofsted had inspected.

But what’s appeared elsewhere this week? Here are 10 stories made possible by FOI:

1. What prompted disciplinary action at universities?

Wales on Sunday reported a wide-ranging catalogue of crimes and offences which resulted in disciplinary action being taken by universities in Wales.  Death threats, firearms possession and widespread cheating were all on the list of universities who, like public bodies have 20 days to reply to requests for information

2. Paramedics being replaced by “assistants” on 999 calls

The Bristol Evening Post dug up a bit of a gem when it asked its local ambulance trust how many 999 calls were attended by emergency care assistants only rather than with a fully-qualified paramedic – the split is supposed to be of each per ambulance. The BEP reports that in almost 2,000 cases, assistants only made up the ambulance crew.

3. Thirsty staff cost council tax payers thousands

The Evening Star in Ipswich used FOI to find out how much local authorities in its area were spending on tea and coffee for meetings and for staff. The figures are surprisingly high. It might sound trivial, but at a time when the public sector is supposed to breathing in a bit, surely such perks are right to be questioned?

4. Do local councils support local business?

The Forum of Private Business used FOI to ask every council in the country how quickly they settle bills with local contractors. The Government says payment should be within 10 days. The FPB says the results were mixed and gives a broadbrush picture – but presumably local authority FOI officers have these figures close at hand for any requests from the local media.

5. How rude are the Welsh?

I’m not sure where this FOI began life, but it’s a good one. Public bodies are forever doing surveys and studies, but don’t always make them freely available. Visit Wales, the tourism body for, er, Wales, is no exception, and under FOI, the results of its focus groups were released. They revealed that people loved the scenary but found the Welsh, on some occasions, rude. A great story – and a case of getting results if you know what to ask for?

6. Rounding up the dangerous dogs

Interesting question posed by the Wolverhampton Express and Star to police: asking how many illegal dogs had been seized by police.  Personally, I feel more could have been done with this story – 100 “illegal” dogs is bound to worry a lot of people and “dog attacks child” stories are quite common

7. Using FOI to check up on the council’s promises

The Epping Forest Guardian reported a while back that fines collected by the council at a “box junction” should be refunded because the council hadn’t adhered to the rules attached. The council agreed – but how much did it pay back?

But a response under the Freedom of Information (FOI) act revealed that the authority has to date paid back just £33,875 of the £267,995 collected from fines at the junction since it was scrapped in February last year.

A great example of how to hold  councils to account by following up on their previous promises via FOI.

8. Paid not to prescribe antibiotics

Reported by the Daily Telegraph but originally from Pulse magazine, it turns out lots of PCTs are running “incentive” schemes with GPs over levels of antibiotic prescription. Again, presumably PCTs will have this information to hand now.

9. Revealing the “cold case” investigations

Back to Walesonline for this story: Police in Wales have revealed the “cold case” murders which are currently under review. Some date back to the Second World War, and the details of the crimes make for fascinating reading.

10. The number of hospital meals binned every day

I stumbled across this one this week, but it dates back to February from the Yorkshire Evening Post. It asked hospital trusts how many meals it prepared a year, the cost of those meals, and what percentage were thrown away. Almost half a million pounds wasted a year.

* * *

*These FOI stories were found searching for the term “FOI” or “Freedom of Information” in Google News. Journalists seem split on whether to say how they found the information or not, hence I suspect many more stories benefitted from FOI research.




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