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

A victory in the battle for reports about council investigations

We start this week with a victory for a local paper. The Harrow Observer had tried to get its hands on a report produced by Harrow Council into the theft of £1,500 from the Town Hall. The council refused to release it under FOI and the paper took its fight to the Information Commissioner, who backed the paper. The report, published in the paper this week, gives some interesting background to the case – but there’s still no sign of a conviction.

And a victory in the battle for speed camera information

I’ve mentioned on this blog a few times before that ‘safety camera partnerships’ often refuse requests for details of how many speeding tickets issued by individual cameras. Sometimes they cite the reason that it will impede criminal investigations. However, the Information Commissioner has now insisted that information be released in the case of a campaign group in Devon. With one camera netting more than £1million, on a road which had only serious accident, it’s no wonder they wanted to keep it quiet.

Outstanding police arrest warrants

Perhaps topical given the fugitive who has been on the run in the North East this week, but the Western Mail reports than more than 900 people are on the run from the police. ‘On the run’ is defined as those who have outstanding police warrants against them, and 161 are suspected of the most serious offences going.

Policing football matches

The Birmingham Mail reported on the amount spent by football clubs on policing, broken down by individual games. No surprise that local derbies came out on top, but it’s a issue for the clubs now that, for the first time since the 80s (I think), four clubs in Birmingham and in the Black Country are in the top flight.

Stress in the classroom

The Huddersfield Examiner covers the Kirklees area of Yorkshire – where teachers clocked up more than 7,000 days off because of stress last year. The NUT believes the numbers are probably just the tip of the iceberg.

Moorland fires

Here’s a bit of a seasonal FOI, just down the road from Huddersfield, in Saddleworth. Hyperlocal news site Saddleworth News used FOI to find out how many moorland fires had been reported – these are quite a big issue for anyone who lives in and around the Pennines. Worryingly, there seems to have been a sharp rise year-on-year.

Crime doesn’t pay, does it?

The York Press reports on how the cost of cleaning up grafitti in the historic city has plummeted this year – but probably not because less scrawl was placed on the walls. Instead, the benefit of the community payback scheme, which makes petty criminals do good deeds instead of another punishment, was credited with helping the Town Hall coffers.

Where are patients treated?

An unusual FOI from the Scotsman reveals that half of people who would traditionally be expected to be treated at one hospital were actually travelling further to another. PCTs – for as long as they exist – will presumably keep records of where patients they pay for are treated. Patients are supposed to have a choice of up to five hospitals, so an FOI asking where patients were treated could trigger some interesting results.

Complaints against councillors

The Newmarket Journal, while investigating a no-show councillor, used FOI to find out if any complaints had been made against him to the council’s standards committee which alleged a breach of the councillor codes of conduct. They found one complaint had been made, but dismissed – but is this a potential goldmine of stories in other areas?

Crime stats as data

The Gazette and Herald newspaper in North Yorkshire used FOI to ask for the number of crimes committed in each area in North Yorkshire – presumably the police set the boundaries here. For the G&H, the result was that its area was the safest in North Yorkshire – not often you get a feel good story from FOI, but a good tale all the same.

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