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

The return of the MPs expenses story this week again proves the worth of the Freedom of  Information Act. Here are 10 other stories which have been made possible through FOI this week:

1. Revealing the details of appalling treatment

Starting on the south coast this week, and a victory for the Southern Daily Echo, which has fought for more than a year to get the findings of a report into care failings at a local hospital. The local Primary Care Trust had to be ordered by the information commissioner to release the information, and even then it had almost as many sections blacked out as a MP’s expenses form. The reason for blanking information out is “so it does not distress staff” which seems a pathetic excuse – but tellingly, there’s more than enough information in the bits released to paint a very damning picture of care at the hospital. Proof that FOI may sometimes be a very slow burner, but it’s worth going through the appea process.

2. The victims of child sex rings

The Sun (I think) appears to have used the Freedom of Information Act to find out how often councils have stepped in to save children from child sex rings. More than 5,000 cases were reported to local councils – and the paper appears to have asked for as much detail as possible, revealing that a baby aged just nine months was among the victims sold before being saved by a council.

3. Council worker accesses child porn at work.

Remember the Nottingham Evening Post investigation – through FOI – into how often illegal images were access on council computers? It’s turned up another good story:  a member of staff being arrested at one council after the council spotted he’d access child porn images. One other papers will be picking up, I’m sure.

4. £700k breast operation botch payouts

Surgeon Puvaneswary Markandoo, who worked at Barnsley hospital until July 2006,  was suspended on full pay after 35 women aged 30 to 65 said they had suffered serious problems, many following treatment for breast cancer. The story at the time was obviously big news, but now the Sheffield Star has uncovered how much it has subsequently cost the hospital trust in compensation claims. Their figures include number of cases brought, number rejects and the average payout per case. A great example of returing to a story and using FOI to find another story.

5. The return of the Icelandic banks story

Walesonline reported this week on Icelandic banking. Like the breast op story, it’s thanks to FOI that an established story has returned to the headlines. FOI requests in this case revealed that a council which lost money in the Icelandic banking collapse had been warned that the banks had become a risk. £3m has been lost by that council to those banks.

Planners at Bristol had recommended refusal of a proposed supermarket at Ashton Gate [home of one of the football teams] before the application was withdraw. A draft officer’s report was released under the Freedom of Information Act, and shows three quarters of the 940 people who had their say on the outline plan were against it. Refusal was recommended because Tesco had failed to demonstrate the need for another supermarket in the area – all of which is now only known because of FOI and the Bristol Evening Post.
The South Wales Evening Post reports on the number of assaults by prisoners inside the local prison, and then takes the story forward by revealing expert concern that this is being caused by overcrowding. According to the report, all prisons must produce a violence reduction strategy, which is presumably the first thing for others looking for their area’s information, to ask for.

8. Racism claims against the police

The Wigan Evening Post reports that the number of claims of racial abuse made against Greater Manchester Police have been reported – with 53 cases brought against GMP

9. “Fat cat” salaries on the South West

The Government’s public sector salary squeeze has been trailed for weeks, giving the Western Morning News time to FOI local public bodies and find out just how well paid the bosses of various public bodies and quangoes are. A handy article to bookmark and refer to if authorities elsewhere try and say no to the same information.

10. More cuts at the Government

The BBC reports a footnote in the Pre-budget report about cutting the diplomatic budget at the Foreign Office – and references FOI figures which show just how much it costs to educated children of diplomats across the world.

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