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

From an increase in food poisoning due to the recession to the councillors who haven’t let the credit crunch reduce their appetite for free food, there’s been a very mixed bag of revelations thanks to FOI this week…

1. The health impact of the recession

The recession has been blamed for many things and, it would appear, you can add rocketing food poisoning cases to the list too. That’s what the Birmingham Mail discovered when it asked the city council for numbers of food poisoning cases in the city, along with the reports from all establishments which got the lowest possible score on its 0-5 scoring system.

2. How many speeding fines per speed camera?

Sticking in the West Midlands, the Wolverhampton Express and Star used FOI to report on how many speeding fines ‘safety’ cameras were issuing. The paper had doped to get the number of fines for each speed camera by location, but this part of the request was refused on the grounds it could lead to vandal attacks on those cameras. This seems a rather flimsy excuse, but at least they released the number of fines issued by the top 10 performing cameras, and which borough they were in. A challenge of the use of the Section 31 exemption (for grounds of law enforcement) might be interesting – is there a public interest reason for knowing how many fines each camera issues, and would this ensure that people slowed down?

3. Domestic violence and the World Cup

The Halifax Courier demonstrated well how to use the Freedom Of Information Act for both a topical story and one which requires quite specific data. It asked for the number of domestic attacks which took place in the area during the World Cup compared to the previous year. The police supplied the info – attacks 6% up.

4. Dead animals on streets

Councils are responsible for removing dead animals from the streets, if reported to them. The Coventry Telegraph compiled its ‘dead animals dossier’ through FOI, establishing that 400 have been picked up over the past three years. They also gleaned the following remarkable paragraphs:

Cats, dogs, deer, pigeons and even a large fish have been picked up by Coventry City Council staff, who freeze the bodies after collecting them.

They remain in a freezer for a week and if the dead pets are not collected by their owners they are incinerated.

5. Laser pen attacks at airports

I think this is the first time I’ve mentioned an FOI to the Civil Aviation Authority. It’s from the Liverpool ECHO, which reported on the number of ‘laser pen attacks’ on planes coming into land at Liverpool’s John Lennon Airport. A small number of incidents, but a lot of people on board each plane.

6. Thefts from council offices

I think thefts from police stations featured in one of the earliest FOI Fridays we did. The Edinburgh Evening News  has this week reported on what is stolen from council officers in Lothian:

While Edinburgh City Council mainly reported the loss of IT equipment – £22,000 worth in total – in West Lothian book crime seemed to be the biggest drain on local authority resources. The council there listed 5000 library books – worth £55,000 – as missing or stolen.

Other unusual items to go missing included a £50 foam gun used for car washing, four sets of steps, a “crimping” tool and a gas torch – all totalling several hundred pounds.

7. Dishonest coppers

The Weston Mercury used FOI to find out how many coppers had been subjected to discplinary action. Almost 200, of which 185 kept their jobs, despite some quite strong allegations.

8. More Jollies

The Liverpool ECHO is the latest newspaper to report some interesting spending for conference events by public bodies. NHS Wirral paid £2,429 for an overnight stay at Inglewood Manor, in Ledsham. Perhaps most interesting was the source of the FOI:

The event was part of the Merseyside and Cheshire Cancer Network’s leadership development programme.

The NHS trust said the trip was “essential” in the battle against the disease in the region.

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A member of the public staying at the Edwardian country house hotel found out the cost and details of the event with a Freedom of Information request.

It revealed some of the health chiefs who stayed there lived just 15 miles away.

9. University bed places

Sticking with FOIs reported by the Press but not started by a journalist, The York Press reports on a parish council which used FOI to ask York University for the number of students it has, along with the number of bed spaces on campus. The result is growing gap, which is having a knock on effect throughout the city as more homes become rentals for students.

10. Why it costs 10 times as much to feed councillors now then four years ago

Finally for this week, the Milton Keynes Citizen reports on the annual spend on resfreshments for council meetings. Like most councils, the squeeze is on in Milton Keynes, which doesn’t really explain why the cost of feeding councillors has increased 10 fold over three financial years.

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FOI Friday is compiled by doing a Google News search for ‘Freedom of Information’ and from tips sent to me here or via @davidhiggerson on Twitter.

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