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

Cars for the political top cats

It’s been a week for hearing about cutbacks in the public sector. Councils will argue they are as a lean as they can be anyway. But the South Wales Echo, using FOI, has learnt that £350k a year is spent £350k on top-of-the-range cars to ferry their political masters around.

Drugs in pubs

The Northumberland Gazette reports this week on findings from a freelance journalist who asked for the results of cocaine spotting operation in Alnwick which concluded that 24 of the 33 pubs tested in the area had traces of cocaine in them. At the time, the police only issued vague details of the results to the local paper. Given the connection Harry Potter has to Alnwick – I think parts were filmed there – the story has been huge nationally, and the police have been left to defend why they were so vague on detail in the first place.

Children hooked on drugs

A great result for the Streatham Guardian which used FOI to find out the number of children being treated for drug addications – including booze – in the area. The information came from the local PCT – or NHS Lambeth –  and led to this story:

NHS Lambeth said the majority were treated for cannabis use, but “a very low amount” were treated for other drugs such as cocaine, as well as alcohol misuse.

The figures show 52, 12 to 15-year-olds were treated in 2007-08, 56 in 2008-09 and 46 by the end of 2009.

It is estimated this could rise to 61 when the full statistics for 2009-10 are published later this year. Some 22 were treated for alcohol abuse.

They were referred for treatment by themselves, parents, schools, social workers and outreach programmes.

Pesky visitors

The Hounslow Chronicle used FOI to get one of those stories which will probably make you itch – details of the number of call outs by environmental health to uninvited visitors such as rats, mice and fleas.

Market Forces

A good example of a newspaper not afraid to reveal that FOIs sourced by the public can generate good stories. In a piece about the growing number of markets falling on hard times, the Yorkshire Post quotes an FOI to a council which revealed the increase in the number of empty market stalls in recent times.

Gimmick/political stunt

Another good example of using FOI to get the figures behind a much publicised political launch. The Waltham Forest Guardian reports on the findings of an investigation by a local UKIP activist, who wanted to find out how well used a £50million fund to help small businesses in Essex had been. It was run by the council, who had spent £250,000 promoting it. Turns out they’ve only given out £145,000 in loans, and are rejecting nine out of ten applications.

Ambulance accidents

According to the Daily Record, which reports on information released by the Scottish Ambulance Service, one ambulance a day is in a crash in Scotland, costing almost £250k in payouts to insurers and those whose vehicles had been damaged. 220 accidents were the fault of paramedics.

Police car accidents

Meanwhile, at the Express and Echo in Exeter, an FOI nvestigation has revealed that 220 police car accidents were reported in the last year, costing a lot to repair. They also appear to have got hold of summaries of each accident, which adds a lot of colour to the article.

Repair work

Got a local council facility which is looking a bit run down and in need of repair? The Clydebank Post does – so it asked how much it was costing to keep the Play Dome venue in good order. Some £60k is being spent every year on repairs.

Asbestos in public buildings

The Gwent Gazette reports on an FOI which revealed that asbestos was present in many of South Wales’s fire stations. I guess a similar picture could be found in schools, hospitals, community centres and other aging buildings across the UK.

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