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

1. Young drugs

With drugs and young people back in the news with a  vengeance as a result of recent stories about ‘miaow miaow’, The Hackney Post timed its FOI about the number of young people – people under 17 – caught in possession of drugs in recent years in the borough.

The number of 13-17 year-olds caught with drugs in the borough has risen sharply from none at all in 2005 to a peak of 208 in 2008, according to information obtained by The Hackney Post under the Freedom of Information Act 2001 – although police adit the figures only “skim the surface” of Hackney’s teenage drug problem.

Over 650 Hackney teenagers were arrested between 2005 and 2010 for drug possession, which includes 30 arrested for drug supply offences. The drugs in circulation were cocaine, crack, cannabis, crystal meth, heroin, ketamine, MDMA (ecstasy) and steroids.

2. Ambulance crashes

The Croydon Advertiser uncovers one of the unreported dangers of being a paramedic – crashes. According to the FOI request the paper put in, just shy of 60 ambulance accidents were reported last year, with the ambulance service to blame for just four – which suggests that ambulances aren’t getting the respect paramedics have come to expect.

3. Very Big Beds

A different take on the whole supersized Britain issue, as the Wigan Evening Post asked the local hospital trust how much it had spent on oversized beds for its larger patients.

4. How low can you go?

An interesting take on the compensation culture from the News of the World – the lowest payouts in compensation by councils across the country, and what for:

One clumsy punter bagged just THREE QUID after taking a tumble on an uneven pavement.

Another won £20 for a damaged SHOE, while a lanky man got a tenner for bumping his HEAD on a low road sign.

Councils have been swamped by trivial claims in the past five years, records obtained from 75 councils under freedom of information laws show.

Experts estimate the tiny amounts add up to a whopping £10MILLION when legal fees and admin charges are counted.

5. Police disciplinary hearings

The Sunday Mercury reports this week on a police officer forced to resign after a female victim of crime was asked to kiss the copper. It’s a story made possible by the Mercury using FOI to ask how disciplinary hearings had been brought in West Midlands Police since 2006, what for and what the result was.

6. How good are your PCSOs?

Police Community Support Officers appear to have been dogged by rows ever since the role was created – and this FOI-based story from the Daily Mirror appears to be proof that. The number of criminal investigations or complaints made against PCSOs seems very high.

7. Special needs tribunals

Proof of the value of FOI when you have a detailed knowledge of your specialism comes again from the Lincolnshire Echo, which asked how much the local education authority had spent on tribunals brought by parents who were upset that their youngsters had not been issued with statements of special needs. The result was around £430,000 spent.

8. Paper cuts

The Eastern Daily Press reports on the £1million cost a year to Norfolk’s councils from buying stationery. I suppose this is one of those FOIs which FOI officers tut about and suggest is a waste of their time. But then again, the councils involved admit the costs are too high.

9. Art for art’s sake?

The FOI suggestion around asking authorities how much art they hold appears to be gaining momentum. First up, the CityWire reports on how much art the Financial Services Authority owns – ironic, given the way it is supposed to be clamping down the excesses of bankers – while the Liverpool Daily Post reports that Wirral Council is sat on £14million of art at a time when it is trying to save a lot of money.

10. Garden grabbing

A good example of using FOI to get responses to Government ‘consultations’ and inquiries was reported in the Birmingham Post a while back, which I’ve meant to mention here. The Government did a consultation on ‘garden grabbing’ – the policy of builders buying large back gardens and building houses there. The responses from councils were released under FOI following requests from Tories. Given that a day never seems to pass without councils or the government announcing new consultations, this could be a handy way of finding out what people are really saying?


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