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

Complaints about food

We start this week with one of those FOI stories which will have the anti-FOI brigade sucking their teeth as saying ‘What a waste of money.’ The Mail on Sunday reported on complaints made by MPs to the Commons catering department. One went so far as to say the menu depicted a Sunday roast with three slices of beef, but s/he only got two. Another complained about the fact HP sauce had been substituted for something else. This FOI can surely be applied all over the place – councils, hospitals etc?

Value of regional development agencies

With question marks hanging over the future of regional development agencies, the Wolverhampton Express and Star comes up with a good story from FOI. It sought the results of a much-publicised £5million project rub by Advantage West Midlands which aimed to help graduates get job. Only one in five who took part got jobs as a result. Value for money?

Low attended university courses

The Carlisle News and Star found out, using FOI, that 34 courses run by the University of Cumbria had fewer than 10 people on them – raising questions about value for money at an establishment which is heavily in debt.

The cost of a rebrand

Shortly before he started swinging the axe, education secretary Michael Gove agreed it should be renamed the Department of Education, rather than the Department of Children, Schools and Familes, as it had been under Labour. Given Gove revels in cutting budgets, I didn’t think it would be long before someone put an FOI in to find out the costs involved of such a name change. As it is, a parliamentary question beat FOI to it – and Gove said the cost was £5,250. But when an FOI request, reported in the Mirror, returned, the cost was put at £8,995. Should we be worried about £3k difference? Of course, it would be nice to think the new, open government was being accurate in parliament – but what’s the betting that the figure will be much, much higher when asked again later this year?

Medical attention for prisoners in police stations

West Yorkshire Police, one of the largest in the country, spent £3.3million calling out doctors to tend to prisoners while in custody. As the force points out, many of those they detain have drink and drug addicts, along with folk with mental health problems. But with cuts looming, will the amount spent come under scrutiny?

Children on ‘care plans’

We’ve covered before FOI requests relating to the number of children placed in care, and the fact the number has risen in the wake of a number of high-profile child cruelty cases. The Lancashire Evening Post reports this week that the number of children on social services care plans – which also includes children who may remain in their homes despite social services being involved – has also risen as a result. It also gets the reasons for the care plans, with 50 youngsters being linked with sex abuse incidents.

Selling off the parks

If the cuts are going to hurt anywhere, it’s in local government. The Swindon Advertiser asked the council for the amount it had made selling off land it owns, such as public spaces, and what plans it had for any more sell-offs. One of the local parks could fetch £600k

Faulty CCTV cameras

The Edinburgh Evening News used FOI to get a list of all CCTV cameras which had been broken over the previous year – the dates they were out of action, and for how long. It turned out that one camera which was faulty could have picked up on the last movements of a missing woman had it been working

Compensation claims

Forgetting asking public bodies for the total amount paid out in compensation claims – the newsier devil appears to be in the detail. The Sunday Express reports on the claims made against the BBC, including an actor who fell from a crows nest in a period drama and a voiceover man who claimed money for chipping his tooth on a microphone. Rather like the food FOI at the top of this post, this is an FOI which could run and run.

Things go wrong on the way to hospital

According to information released to the Western Mail under the Freedom of Information Act, there were 89 incidents between January 2007 and December 2009, which Ambulance staff were required to report. They are obliged to do so in any incident where a patient suffered harm or there was a near miss. Delays – either because of slow response times, hold ups at the hospital or a means of transport that does not arrive on time – make up nearly half of all adverse incidents reported to the Welsh Ambulance Service, 42 in the past three years.

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