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

Council spies on its own staff

Here’s a story you’re unlikely to read in the Hammersmith and Fulham News, the council newspaper which tries oh so hard to look like a proper newspaper. So just as well the Fulham and Hammersmith Chronicle is around to dig up little gems like this. Through FOI Friday, I’ve talked about FOI requests which ask for how a council has used the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (aka the Snoopers Charter) can generate good stories. I’ve not seen a story where the council has had to cough to using the powers to spy on its own staff until now, though.

Affordable Homes

Given the recession, the issue of affordable homes has droppeddown the news agenda somewhat. But this FOI request in the York Press makes for an interesting read. The Press reports on how a local architect asked for a breakdown on how many affordable homes were built in York last year – a figure councils apparently have to collect – and it turns out 22 of the homes were actually beds in a homeless hostel.

Breaking curfews

Using electronic tagging was supposed to solve prison overcrowding – but how many people have been spared jail and given an electronic tag to wear instead? And how many have breached the curfew orders which go with it? The Bristol Evening Post asked these questions of the Ministry of Justice and got some interesting numbers:

Tagging of criminals has been used by 1,800 criminals as an alternative to serving time behind bars.

However, more than 500 of the 1,800 criminals in the Bristol and North Somerset areas of the region broke the conditions of the curfew orders which came with being tagged.

Ministry of Justice figures, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, reveal how 1,860 criminals in Bristol and North Somerset were spared jail in favour of tagging since April 1, 2009.

Tagging, where electronic equipment is placed on an offenders ankle, is used for criminals on community service, on bail or on early release from prison.

Legal guns

We see a lot about illegal guns in the news all the time but how many guns are held legally in an area? The Derry Journal reports on more than 300 in its area, information from the Police Service of Northern Ireland, broken down by the type of guns.

Rape investigations

Stories about low conviction rates for reported rape offences are often reported at a national level, but the Northampton Chronicle and Echo appears to have proved there’s value in chasing the local data too:

Nearly two-thirds of all rapes reported to Northamptonshire Police in the last decade remain unsolved, according to new statistics.

Between January 2000 and December 2009 the force received 1,784 complaints of rape, though almost a quarter of these were cancelled as no crime was officially recorded.

But of the 1,371 listed as crimes, 64 per cent remained unsolved by police, da ta released under the Freedom of Information Act shows.

Ghost bus

The Argus in Brighton reports on how the council operates a bus service for council employees, and divides the cost by the number of people who use it. The result is a claim that the bus service is actually a glorified taxi service. While there may not be many councils which provide staff buses, many authorities do subsisdise bus services – and the fact they collect information on passenger numbers could proving interesting.

Pounds on, pounds off

The Hounslow Chronicle covers an area where the council runs a number  sports centre. Using FOI, it asked the council for the number of visits made by the public in the last two years, and there’s been a sharp fall in the last year? Clearly not the news health campaigners would like to hear, but perhaps proof of belt tightening in more than one way because of the recession?

Gifts to the police

I love FOI requests for the register of gifts which public bodies have to hold. They often bring up some very odd stories, as the Edinburgh Evening News proved this week:

POLICE officers have been presented with a boomerang, shampoo and foot cream.

The unusual items are among a list of gifts given to officers at Lothian and Borders Police, which also includes the more mundane invitations to government receptions and official lunches.

The motive behind the boomerang gift is not recorded, nor is the reason why other residents decided to present officers in Edinburgh with the shampoo and hand and foot cream.

The cost of stress

The way the national press talk about cuts to the public sector, it’s no wonder people are suffering from stress. But how much does it cost, and how many days are lost to stress? The East Anglian Daily Times found out:

The council paid out nearly £2million in sick pay to staff suffering from the conditions – and lost nearly 17,000 working days.

Eight members of staff left the authority 
altogether after suffering from stress, anxiety or depression – and the county council paid out more than £54,000 in compensation to staff who left after suffering from such conditions.

The figures were disclosed after the East Anglian Daily Times submitted a Freedom of Information request asking for information about the amount of time and money lost because of stress-related conditions.

They show that 1,478 employees took absence from the county council because of stress, anxiety and depression between January 1, 2009 and March 15, 2010.

That figure includes staff in schools – and equates to just under 5.5% of the council’s 27,000-strong workforce.

Half of ASBOs broken

How successful have ASBOs been at stopping crime? Not very in Worcester, where half have been broken. I’m assuming the information came from the police.

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