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

No breast implants left at lost property in this week’s FOI wrap, but we do have the credit card action of senior quango bosses, crime on buses, ineffective smoking ban clampdowns, schools dropping Christian assemblies … and Ministry of Defence staff leaking stuff on Twitter….

What the credit cards tell us

Asking for the statements of corporate credit cards belonging to executives at Yorkshire Forward proved a good call for a reporter, according to this story in the Wakefield Express.

The papers reports:

Sixty-two executives at the agency, funded by the government and European Union to attract investment to the region, spent more than £170,000 on their executive credit cards in an 18-month period. Credit card statements obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show hotel stays in Brussels, South Africa, America, China and Japan.

Restaurant bills of up to £500 were charged to the credit cards, held by Yorkshire Forward bosses including chairman Terry Hodgkinson and chief executive Tom Riordan.

Social Media tickings off

The number of staff disciplined for ‘leaking’ things from the Ministry of Defence on Twitter and Facebook was revealed this week. There’s a bigger question here, perhaps, in looking at the impact social media has had on public bodies in terms of personnel issues – bullying, perhaps? Are people being ticked off for using it?

Christianity cancelled in school assemblies

I’m not sure if this story began life in the Birmingham Mail as an FOI but it’s one which could certainly be generated via FOI. The Birmingham Mail has established that 23 schools have received dispensation, in Birmingham, to stop holding Christian assemblies.

Trouble on the buses

A different request to the police for statistics which will mean something to members of the public, this time from the Wolverhampton Express and Star. It sought figures for crimes reported as taking place on buses and bus stops and stations.

The paper found:

A sex offence is also committed on the network every three days, according to the figures which reveal there have been 13,272 crimes reported during the last three years.

Teenage drug dealers

Children as young as 13 have been caught dealing drugs in the North, the Sunday Sun revealed last weekend thanks to FOI. A total of 234 youngsters aged 13 to 17 have been arrested over the last three years for dealing in all manner of drugs from heroin and methadone to cocaine, cannabis and speed. This FOI would be quite easy to replicate – simply asking for the number of under 18s caught dealing drugs, broken down by age.

What about this smoking ban?

The smoking ban arrived in a blaze of glory a couple of years ago, but what has the impact been in terms of prosecutions? That’s the question the Reading Post asked – and this was the result:

Sixty-three Reading businesses failed to stub out nicotine since the smoking ban was introduced.

But despite this – and even though more than 1,000 premises in Reading borough have been inspected since July 2007 – no business or individual has been charged or fined for breaching anti-smoking laws.

Such enforcement rests with the local police.

Rubbish crackdown

The Croydon Advertiser was told by the local council it intended to have a crackdown on ‘litterbugs’ and it would be handing out fines to anyone it caught dropping litter. The Advertiser turned to FOI to find out how many fines were issued in the first week. The answer was 11. Not quite the crackdown the paper expected.

Police numbers falling

Another paper getting through the spin this week was the Grimsby Telegraph, which managed to find out that to save money, Humberside Police was axing more than 30 police officer posts but bringing in 48 admin posts. It’s the sort of story made possible by FOI.

Fire cuts cause a storm

The Kenilworth Weekly News turned up a gem when a local MP asked for documents prepared relating to the planned closure of a fire station. The Fire Authority had distributed information to local people explaining what the closure would mean. But internal documents released under FOI show a senior firefighter saying that the consultation to residents left out key facts. Not susprisingly, the claim is now that such a consultation was a sham.

The price of death

This one has been doing the rounds for a few weeks but is fascinating all the same. Ever heard of ‘ash cash’? It’s the nickname given to the fees paid to doctors for signing documents which allow funerals to be arranged. According to the York Press:

The “ash cash” system saw GPs in York and elsewhere in North and East Yorkshire receive £636,000 for signing documents allowing funerals to go ahead.

Hospitals record the information, but don’t receive the cash, if you want to follow it up locally.

Top rates for police constables

A salary of £65,000 sounds a bit high for a police detective constable, but that’s the figure The Star in Sheffield received when they posed the question:

A Freedom of Information Act request has revealed how much South Yorkshire Police chiefs spent on the salaries of constables over the last financial year – April 2008 to March 2009.

One detective constable earned £65,312.59 last year and another two – all three specialists – also earned more than £60,000, their pay boosted with overtime.

There were 22 constables who took home between £50,000 and £60,00 and 855 who were paid between £40,000 and £50,000.

A total of 953 constables earned between £30,000 and £40,000 and another 504 got between £20,00 and £30,000.

South Yorkshire Police paid out £8,306,871.96 in overtime last year to police officers of all ranks.

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