FOI Friday: Parking tickets, pot holes, first class travel and international phone calls

With cutbacks looming, FOI request success stories relating to public spending seem to be rising, and dominate this week’s round-up of FOI stories from across the UK:

1. The fines issued to motorists for driving without due care

Remember the famous story about the motoring ticket handed out to the driver who was eating an apple at the wheel? The Birmingham Mail due up a heap of other random reasons for getting a ticket when it used FOI to ask West Midlands Police to list the things people get up to behind the wheel – using a water pistol being one of the more surreal.

2. Blackberries and laptops at the council

The Northern Echo reports on the number of Blackberries and laptops handed out ‘for free’ to senior staff and councillors. The paper also found out, via the information released, that several councillors had returned their laptops and insisted on paying for their own broadband. With tight times ahead, could this become an interesting political issue at councils up and down the country?

3. Challenging what the council says

An interesting use of FOI, rather than one which instantly replicable across the country, from the Bath Chronicle. The council there raised eyebrows when it employed an expensive troubleshooter. The council’s defence was that it had led to reduction in the amount spent on consultants for various projects. Only it hadn’t, as the paper revealed using FOI.

4. The international calls bill at a council

North Lincolnshire Council might be a local council, but it appears to have a global outlook. The Scunthorpe Telegraph reports on how mobile phone calls from the council have cost £600,000 in three years, including thousands of calls abroad. The council says many of the calls were repaid by staff.

5. First class travel at the council’s expense

MPs might have lost their right to travel first class, but it would appear councillors and senior officers in Nottinghamshire haven’t. Two councils coughed to the Nottingham Evening Post that they were still letting their officers and councillors travel first class – including one council which is also looking to axe 3,000 jobs.

6. Drunk behind the wheel – even before you’ve passed your test

The Mirror used FOI to find out how many people were sent home from the driving tests because they were suspected of being drunk – 40 across the UK. None were reported to the police. The FOI was sent to the Driving Standards Agency, which presumably holds a variety of data which can be broken down to local test centres.

7. The cost of a legal battle

The Portsmouth News turned to FOI to find out how much the council had spent on legal fees fighting objections to a planned bus route. The figure so far is around £120,000. One for reporters covering similar long-running stories everywhere?

8. Spending at party conferences

I’m going to put a bit of a health warning on this FOI as it is on a Lib Dem website attacking a Labour council for spending to attend the Labour Party  Conference. The reported £250k bill over several years seems quite high. Do other councils do this too? From covering the conferences several years ago, I think the answer is yes.

9. The number of speeding tickets which were cancelled and why

The Coventry Telegraph turned its attention to speeding tickets again  – this time asking for the number of tickets cancelled and the reasons why. Apparently being in prison has its upsides.

10. The number of potholes filled

The Yorkshire Post revealed the ongoing impact of the cold winter by getting details of the number of potholes councils have had to fill this year compared to last, and where the money is coming from to pay for it.

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FOI Friday is compiled using Google News Search for ‘Freedom of Information’ and with examples sent to this blog.

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