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

1. Snakes in a school

I mentioned on here before Christmas about an FOI request made by the Dundee Courier for pest control reports involving local hospitals. A different take on that FOI comes from a local Labour councillor who, the BBC reports, asked for the pest control reports involving local schools. The council replied with details of call outs to deal with bats, pigeons – and snakes.

2. How many new potholes?

Potholes became big news last month when the bad weather hit the area, but how bad was the problem? The Lincolnshire Echo asked the county council for the number of new pothole reports it had received last month – and the answer was 715. That compares to 1,300 for the whole of last winter.

3. The impact of the Baby P case

A interesting use of FOI to marry up a national story with a local issue. The Southport Visiter reports on a 60% increase in the number of children Sefton Council has taken into care following the national storm triggered by the death of Baby P.

4. Learning from the letters page

Who says you can’t learn stuff on the letters page? In the Times, Dr Rod Storring and Dr David Dighton added their take to the Mid Staffordshire Hospital crisis, by referring to their own analysis of the Care Quality Commission’s annual staff satisfaction survey. One of the questions is: “Am I able to deliver the patient care I aspire to”. Response levels were poor in Mid Staffordshire – is it one which could be revealing across the country too? Proof of positive success with FOI if you have a good working knowledge of what information hidden government bodies hold.

5. Spin, or good health?

The Express and Star had another angle in the Staffordshire Hospital row – finding out how much the hospital had spent on ‘spin’ during the three years in which people weren’t receiving the care they should have done.

The NHS Trust running Stafford Hospital spent £628,000 on boosting its image in a three-year-period when it was embroiled in a scandal over dismal standards of care.

Mid-Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust, which also runs Cannock Hospital, spent the cash on public relations and marketing over the last three financial years.

Over the same time period that Stafford Hospital is accused of causing between 400 and 1,200 avoidable deaths – partly due to poor staffing levels – its parent trust spent tens of thousands of pounds on a PR agency in addition to spending more than £30,000 a year on its own internal press office.

Spending on PR agencies ballooned from £51,000 in 2006/07 to £107,000 in 2008/09. Thousands more was spent on advertisements and “marketing management costs”.

The total PR spend is equal to the cost of around ten full-time nurses every year.

6. Allotments crisis

One of those regular stories from the recession has been the growing number of people turning to ‘The Good Life’ to make ends meet. But it’s not that simple in Camden, where the waiting list for an allotment stands at 983, an FOI request reported in the Willesden and Brent Times reports.  That equate to a wait of roughly 50 years.

7. Law-breaking coppers

The Sunday Sun in Newcastle reveals the crimes coppers have been committing in the region thanks to FOI. Drug dealing, drink driving, sexual assault and even death by dangerous driving are among the offences they committed – with 23 officers resigning on the spot.

8. Accidents at a city council

Birmingham City Council has big money problems at the moment, with thousands of jobs at risk. The Sunday Mercury added a new dimension to the debate by finding out how much had been spent on compensation claims for staff resulting from workplace injuries.

It has forked out £2.6 million in the last five years on accident at work claims, including £300,000 to an employee who suffered post traumatic stress following an undisclosed incident.

Two others collectively billed the council for almost £300,000 after exposure to asbestos led to them contracting mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer.

9. Empowered Council workers

Using an FOI request submitted by Big Brother Watch, the Glamorgan Gazette reports that more than 100 council officers have the right to enter homes without a warrant or police escort, a figure which is much higher than in nearby larger authorities.

10. And a returning favourite: Parking hotspots

The Flintshire Chronicle makes good use of one of the most well-known FOIs –  getting the top 20 parking tickets  hotspots in the Flintshire area. It’s one worth turning to time and time again, as it provides instant useful information for readers.

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