FOI FRIDAY: Fuel-lish mistakes, expensive art, mid-air near misses and making money out of schools

1. Silly Fuels

Kicking off in the North East this week with a great example of multiple FOIs coming together for one story. The Sunday Sun put FOIs in to all sorts of authorities – police, council, ambulance service and so on – to find out how many cases of the wrong fuel being put in vehicles had been reported. The answer: 285. The cost: £48,000 to fix. (There is a What Do You Know FOI round robin on this here)

2. Gloomy Outlook

The Express and Echo in Exeter demonstrated how digging into spending from previous years can provide good stories with this one about how £279k was spent on abstract art for the HQ of the Met Office over the last decade. As the cuts begin to bite, there are probably many more stories like this – hospitals being a prime example.

3. Even paper-rounds are in short supply

We all know jobs are hard to come by at the moment, but here’s a different line to pursue thanks to the Lincolnshire Echo. It tapped into the fact that employers wishing to employing under-16s have to apply for a licence from the council to do so, and that the number of licences being applied for has declined in recent years by more than 1,000. Proof of fewer jobs?

4. Cutting the courts

One from the Flintshire Chronicle which is just ripe to be followed up elsewhere. The local council didn’t like the Government’s plan to shut its court, so asked under FOI for any documents produced about the future of the court from recent years. That request turned up an interesting document which talked about how the court should have a future – produced just two years ago.

5. Using FOI to see structural reports

Sticking in North Wales, but with the Weekly News, here’s a good example of getting a council report which otherwise probably wouldn’t see the light of day. It concerns a pier which, thanks to the report being released, people now know could collapse within five years. How many other areas have the sort of buildings which councils produce reports on?

6. Devil in the detail

A good example of the level of detail available under FOI appears in the Harrow Observer which reports on how a council speak £90k on a kitchen extension which should only have cost £30k. The FOI was put in by the pensioner whose house was involved – and it shows how a very specific request can really pay off.

7. Near misses in the air

The Westmorland Gazette reveals how 10 near-misses have been reported by air traffic controllers and the RAF to the Ministry of Defence above Cumbria in recent years. With details of each one reported, it makes quite scary reading. Presumably, the Civil Aviaton Authority hold similar statistics.

8. Making money out of schools

With perhaps arguably the most random picture of the week on a story, the Wakefield Express details the £10,000 paid out in compensation as a result of accidents in schools last year.

9. Investigating online grooming

We cover police data FOI requests each week but this one from the BBC is a bit different – it asked forces in Wales to reveal the number of officers dedicated to the growing problem of online grooming of children. The answers were surprisingly low.

10. Parking fines

And finally, one I’ve chucked in because it’s a good example of revisiting previous FOIs once again. The Wilmslow Express reports on the number of parking fines which have been handed out. What’s particularly good about this FOI is that is included details of how many tickets had been issued in each town within East Cheshire, rather than just a borough wide figure.

5 comments

  1. These FOI stories are all well and good but how much does it cost to service them? I am sure a great deal of money is wasted with officials chasing down fatuous requests that produce real none stories.

    1. Hi Tony, thanks for the comment.
      The FOI Act provides that up to £450 of officer time may be spent on any FOI request – so it should cost no more than that.
      As for ‘non stories’ – that’s a subjective point but I don’t think it should be for the authorities to decide what is and isn’t a non-story.
      The FOI Act provides the right to know information from a public authority which is funded by the public.
      The cost argument tends to come from authorities which are really actually upset by the fact it’s harder to hide information they’d like to keep under wraps.
      There are many ways councils etc could reduce the need to use FOI – but the track record of the public sector of having a default presumption of openness is very poor.
      There’s a lot councils could do to reduce the costs.

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