FOI FRIDAY: Underage booze, cops buying lip balm, quango spending and some interesting hospitality

1. Venues caught selling booze to under-aged teens

Proof of the value of local knowledge when it comes to an FOI came from the South Wales Echo this week. Ed Walker initially had his request for the names of all venues caught selling booze to youngsters refused by the authorities – so he appealed it, citing public interest because under-aged drinking was a big issue at community police meetings. The police relented and the offending venues were named and shamed this week.

2. Promotional spending by the police

The Northampton Chronicle revealed that the local police had spent more than £36,000 on promotional items in the last two years, including cash for promotional lip balm. This Is Cornwall has a similar story, detailing how money was spent on crime-fighting tools such as branded pencils

3. Spending at development agencies

It was a bit of a battle to get regional development agencies covered by the FOI Act in the first place and now the government plans to scrap them because the organisations are now considered poor value for money. That makes them ripe for FOI requests, and the Manchester Evening News was able to report on the £20k spent on corporate entertainment and car hire for its chief executive.

4. When external PR costs as much as 12 heart bypass operations

The Birmingham Mail decided to look into the amount spent on promoting the city’s new hospital which opened over the summer. The hospital trust does have its own press and PR team – it is, after all, a big hospital serving a big area. But it turns out the hospital spent an extra £64k on bringing in externals PRs to promote the new hospital. Value for money?

5. Language barrier?

A story which will be familiar in more areas than others: the percentage of children in the education system who don’t have English as a first language. The Maidenhead Advertiser used FOI figures to report that around half of kids in the area’s schools didn’t have English as a first language.

6. Council hospitality

A good example of why it is always worth asking for details of hospitality enjoyed by various functions of local councils. The Advertiser series in Surrey asked the council for any  hospitality enjoyed by planning officers in recent times – only to find out that mineral extractors had taken planning officers out for Christmas lunches at around the time a new mineral extraction plan was being drawn up by the council.

7. Linking councils to businesses run by councillors

The Gloucestershire Echo used FOI to find out how much business had been put the way of a printing firm in which three councillors have an interest. FOI may soon be redundant for this sort of story when the new payments data becomes available in the new year.

The council replied with the details -prompting a political row over whether it was a conflict of interest.

8. Runaway children

Sussex has seen a 12% rise in young runaways in the last year, the Brighton Argus reports. The figures, which run into the thousands, were released using FOI.

9. The cost of asylum children

The Sunday Mercury has the M6 running right through its patch. That appears to be a problem for councils in the area, because it means a rising number of asylum children dumped near to the motorways. 322 have been found in the area in recent times, costing the councils millions of pounds.

10. Wheelie bins!

And an FOI on wheelie bins to finish this week. Really. The West Sussex County Times reports on FOI figures which reveal that more than 1,000 wheelie bins have been damaged or lost since they were introduced – with many complaints that the bin wagons are doing much of the damage!

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