FOI FRIDAY: Hidden cuts, health and safety, crimes at the cop shop and the cost of obesity

The Tyne and Wear Metro really does creak

1. Here come the cuts

You’d think getting the nod for cash from the current government was enough to guarantee it would happen. Thanks to the Freedom of Information Act, William Green of The Journal in Newcastle has been able to prove that’s not the case. He managed to get hold of documents relating to a £350million upgrade to Tyne and Wear’s creaking Metro system. The Government had said ok to the money, but letters between transport secretary Phillip Hammond and Treasury Chief Secretary Danny Alexander show that they plan to ‘look further’ at the cost of the planned upgrade, suggesting it’s far from guaranteed. This story, I think, proves there is a mountain of information inside government just waiting to be released about projects which could be hit by spending cuts.

2. Health and safety

I don’t normally include stories which have come to national prominence already but this week’s story about how health and safety documents raised questions over BP’s operations in the North Sea is worth a special mention. While BP still insists it is safer than most in the North Sea,  the story does approve the value of health and safety reports to journalists. Worth looking at big companies near you?

3. A fine mess

The Bristol Evening Post took a different take on the popular parking tickets FOI requests and asked how many tickets went unpaid in Bristol. That’s £900,000 a year which goes uncollected – with 13,346 people managing to dodge the fines for various reasons.

4. The truth behind speed cameras?

Speed cameras have been in the news lately for a variety of reasons and the Hull Daily Mail appears to have discovered some facts which question the value of the traps. One of the main arguments in favour of speed cameras is that the money paid in fines gets spent on road safety. The Hull Daily Mail asked for the exact amounts, and it’s just 30% which gets spent locally.

5. The truth is out there

One to no doubt irritate all those who say the FOI Act is abused, but a fun one all the same. Devon and Cornwall Police has released the details of reports relating to fairies, ghosts and UFOs in recent years. Some 150 cases in all which were logged and filed? A waste of time? Given most police forces say it takes moments to run reports through their crime logs based on search words, probably not.

6. Money lost to benefits cheats

Stories about people prosecuted for benefit fraud are ten a penny, largely due to the very proactive Benefits Agency press office. But the Lancashire Telegraph had a different take, getting the overall figure of money lost to cheats – £1million across 717 cases, of which only 65 resulted in prosecutions.

7. Driven crazy

Stories about over-the-top perks in the public sector were always good stories for reporters even before the credit crunch. Now, they pack even more of a punch. The Evening Chronicle in Newcastle asked local councils for the amount they spend on chauffeurs for senior staff, how many times staff have been chauffeured around, and how many civic cars there are in the North East. As one councillor points out, there’s a very good public transport system in the North East.

8. Crimes committed in police stations

From the Huddersfield Examiner comes an interesting take on the ‘what happened at the police station’ FOI. We’ve had things stolen from police stations before now, and also vandalism in the prison cells FOIs. But what about the overall number of crimes committed in police stations, and what they were:

The list of incidents includes assaults on officers and members of the public, criminal damage, aggravated vehicle taking, racial harassment, actual bodily harm, thefts from motor vehicles and threats to kill.

Among the more unusual offences is one of aiding, abetting, counselling or procuring desertion or absence without leave from the armed forces.

9. Top earners at universities

I’m not a huge fan of the ‘they earn more than the prime minister’ line because it suggests that the PM deserves to earn more than anyone else. But sometimes it can be used to raise some interesting questions. With universities worried about future spending, using FOI to reveal the numbers of top earners at universities adds a new dimension to the discussion.

10. The cost of obesity

Fascinating stuff from the Western Mail looking at the cost of obesity to the NHS in Wales. How do you work that out? Ask them how much they’ve spent on equipment specifically designed to deal with obese people, such as reinforced mortuary trolleys and scales which go up to 100 stone.

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FOI Friday is compiled using Google News searches and tips sent to this blog or to me via Twitter

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