FOI FRIDAY: Cuts, cuts and cuts – 10 FOI stories connected to spending

With the spending cuts being brought into sharp focus this week, I thought it’d be a good idea to look at some of the spending-related Freedom of Information requests which have made headlines in recent weeks. At a time when every pound spent is being accounted for, using FOI to keep the public informed of how cash has been used has probably never been more important….

1. The £25,000 website which attracts just 10 visitors a day

Starting this week with the Saddleworth News hyperlocal blog, run by journalist Richard Jones. Richard’s FOI to Oldham Council asked how much was spent on the Oldham Says website, which is run by the local strategic partnership, the sort of ‘multi agency’ partnership which exists in most parts of the country. Just 10 visitors a day suggests they could do better.

2. The doctor paid £5,000 for one shift

The NHS is to see its budget increased but has been challenged to ensure that spending goes to the frontline. The Express and Star in Wolverhampton used FOI to find out how much was spent on agency staff, such as nurses and doctors, and appears to have asked for the single largest payment for one shift too. That figure made the story – £5k for a 24-hour shift in A&E.

3. Taxi to where?

Cost-cutting is already taking effect in Scotland, it would appear. The Scotsman asked for details of all taxi journeys made over the past five years – and found £1.5m had been spent by the Scottish Government on journeys, including £129k on taxi journeys which went just 2.3miles between the Scottish Government’s two bases in Edinburgh. The advice from the Scottish Government to officers now is: “Get the bus.”

4. Unpaid council tax

It’s one thing councils claiming cuts in grants will mean cuts in services, but how good are they at collecting all the council tax due to them? The Halifax Courier asked that question of Calderdale Council and it turned out more than £10million was due in unpaid council tax.

5. The cost of redundancy

The Local Government Association (more on them soon) believes 100,000 people will lose their jobs from town halls in the months to come. But what will the cost of that be, and what has been the cost of redundancies carried out so far? Or the cost of ensuring the jobs done by redundant people are still done. The News Shopper in London reports that £500,000 was spent making 12 HR officers redundant, only for 11 new people to be appointed to do the same work.

6. When a politician changes tune

Politicians appear to be changing tune more often than a juke box at the moment as cuts bite. This story from the Yorkshire Post revealed how Labour used FOI to find documents which showed Sheffield MP and deputy prime minister Nick Clegg backed plans to give Forgemasters Government help before the election, and then changed his mind once his party was in power with the Tories.

7. The impact of crime

The Western Mail used FOI to find out how many prolific criminals there were in Wales, presumably by asking police for details of the most frequently arrested offenders:

Just 235 Welsh offenders have notched up more than 8,000 arrests and 4,700 convictions between them during their lives of crime.
At a time when cutting prison places is high on the agenda, the Mail reports that crime charities fear this problem will just get worse.
Although education budgets are apparently to be protected, the axing of Building Schools for the Future is expected to have an impact. The Cambridge News used FOI to ask the council for a list of the schools which were over-capacity and which ones weren’t – a situation which may drag on as money dries up.
An old favourite but perhaps never more relevant than now. Many councils have reorganised in recent years, while others have been quick to rebrand themselves when changing political colours. The BBC found the cost in Bedfordshire ran into hundreds of thousands of pounds.
And finally, new third sector magazine Charity Insight opens its first edition with an investigation into how councils have reduced their grants to charities, something which is expected to increase now the spending review has been announced. According to Press Gazette:

The lead feature of the launch issue is based on Freedom of Information requests which were made to more than 400 local authorities to find out what cuts have already been made to voluntary sector budgets ahead of this week’s comprehensive spending review.

The investigation revealed that charities have already felt the impact of more than £112m of cutbacks as a result of the local government spending squeeze.

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