School place appeals stories are always popular and controversial, and in recent years many councils have vowed to get tough on those who lie to get their children into good schools. But how many parents have been found to be lying? The Gloucestershire Echo used FOI to find out.
A good example of knowing the phrases councils use from the Leicester Mercury, which reports on the 200 ‘forced adoptions’ carried out by the council, taking children from natural parents to new parents elsewhere.
The Southport Visiter reports this week on the sorts of things Sefton Council pays out for – and how much. Perhaps it’s the smaller payouts which are the most surprising, such as the £7.83 given to someone who claimed a council employee had damaged their car.
Steve Dyson may not have liked it as a splash in the Metro, but the story about the number of times cops have fired guns to kill animals does demonstrate well how FOI can be used to get data which is useful to journalists.
The authors of Ventnor Blog, in the Isle of Wight, have spoken in the past about their often difficult relationship with the local newspaper, the County Press. They’ve used FOI to find out how much is spent by the council in the local newspaper. It has risen in recent years and works out at £4k a week. Of course, it isn’t actually £4k a week – it’ll fluctuate during the year, I guess. This is an interesting one for me, as the resulting report, which doesn’t carry a comment from either the County Press or the council, leaves some questions which could do with answering – where else does it advertise, what sort of advertising are we talking about, how much is compulsary advertising and what assessment has been done to determine whether it is value for money? It’s now been suggested other councils receive FOIs asking similar questions – I’d suggest if this happens, the questions I’ve proposed need asking too.
Naughty goings on at Oldham Council this week, which responded to an FOI request by the hyperlocal site Saddleworth News by releasing part of the answer via press release to all the media. Saddleworth News asked for the stats for Oldham Council’s websites, including its tourism website. Oldham Council’s press release celebrated a 6.4% increase in traffic this year – is that good? – but the actual numbers, released via FOI, show fewer than 400 people a week logging on.
Councils often fight tooth and nail for the right to host big events to ensure they attract more visitors. But what’s the cost? The Evening Gazette in Middlesbrough reports that through FOI, it has emerged Hartlepool Council spent £4million to attract and run a Tall Ships event – of which £800,000 hasn’t been covered by external sponsorship.
A random story in the Cotswold Journal about the £50 budget for chocolate allocated by a council for prizes to staff who turned their computer monitors off at night. It’s an energy saving drive, apparently. Whatever happened to being able to tell people to do something?
Remember Second Life, the virtual reality other world which was going to take over our lives? Yes, I’d forgotten about it too. But Tameside blogger Liam Billington hadn’t forgotten Tameside Council’s excitement at buying a presence in Second Life. The cost, and what it was spent on, is revealed thanks to his FOI, which was reported in the Manchester Evening News, amongst others.
Police seem to have a broad canvas to work with when fining people for not being in control of their vehicle – remember the apple saga in Newcastle? The Coventry Telegraph has found out that holding a piece of paper at the wheel can also get you a fine too.