20 FOI ideas to kick off 2011

FOI ideas image: Yarn DeliveriesThere has been a spike in traffic coming to my blog this week using the search term ‘FOI ideas.’ Quiet first week back at the office maybe? So, here are 20 FOI ideas to kick off 2011, in no particular order. Happy new year!

1. Call outs to pubs and clubs

Which pubs and clubs have received the most calls from police? The Wilsmlow Express was able to name the venues in its area via FOI. A bit of a health warning should come with this FOI. A friend of mine runs a bar in a Lancashire town. His local paper ran a similar FOI and his bar came near to the top for call outs, but he says the figures included incidents where the venue was used as a landmark – eg an assault outside the bar. In some respects, this shouldn’t change the FOI  because it’s the perception of danger which will matter to the reader. (Source: Wilmslow Express)

2. Political Assistants

Councils up and down the country spend money on employing tax payer-funded political assistants for the main political parties. Good value for money? The Swindon Advertiser found it cost £80,000 a year in Swindon. (Source: Swindon Advertiser)

3. Taken to court for unpaid council tax

A good indicator of how the recession is impacting on people is getting hold of the number of people councils are taking to court for non payment of council tax. In Scotland, the figure is 350 A DAY. (Source: The Scotsman)

4. Thefts from ambulances

Thefts from ambulances in the Wolverhampton area include sat navs, the Express and Star reported. Blue emergency lights, high vis jackets and medical equipment have also been stolen, according to figures from the ambulance service. (Source: Wolverhampton Express and Star)

5. Broken CCTV cameras

Figures revealing how many days CCTV cameras were broken, sorted by location, were reported to the Coventry Telegraph. Councils and police forces should hold this data.  (Source: Coventry Telegraph)

6. Top-earning speed cameras

Hurrah for an areas where they don’t mind actually releasing some speed camera data. Hello Oldham. The Advertiser revealed where the biggest-earning camera was, and how much the top 10 cameras brought in. (Source: Oldham Advertiser)

7. Christmas lights

Figures on how much councils spent on Christmas lights this Christmas compared to previous years could be, well, illuminating. (Source: The Edinburgh Evening News)

8. Breaches of security at armed forces bases

The Swindon Advertiser used FOI to find out how many breaches of security had taken place at its local armed forces bases. Details of the three cases are reported here (Source: Swindon Advertiser)

9. Mobile phones and councils

The Lancashire Guardian used FOI to find out that half of council staff in Lancashire have a work-issued mobile phone bill, and that the three year bill is £140,000. Good value or money or not? Readers on the story are divided. (Source: Lancashire Guardian)

10. Scale of domestic violence

Quite stark figures from the Halifax Courier relating to the number of domestic violence calls the police receive every day in Calderdale – 10 a day, up sharply on last year. A hidden problem? (Source: Halifax Courier)

11. Tea for councillors

FOI isn’t always bad new for councils. The Courier published details of how a lot less was now being spent by the council on feeding councillors. Sadly, the PR opportunity was missed – the council said it was because councillors had busy lives so chose not to eat at the council, not because they wanted to save the council money. (Source: Halifax Courier)

12. Use of Sara’s Law

Sara’s Law, the law campaigned for by the mother of murdered girl Sara Payne, is designed to allow parents to find out if paedophiles live near them. The Sunday Sun used FOI to find out how often it had been used in the North East. (Source: Sunday Sun)

13. Danger dogs seized

Attacks by dogs on humans regularly make the headlines, but how often are police seizing dogs? The Sunday Sun used FOI to find out – some 80 times in the last year in the North East. (Source: Sunday Sun)

14. Health fat cats

With big budget cuts looming in the NHS, is now the time to find out how many people earning big salaries there are in the NHS? The Western Mail did that for its health boards (read PCTs in England). The figures are a little eye-watering. Source (Western Mail)

15. Stolen from police

A favourite but always a good one- the things stolen from police. The Carlisle News and Star found out speed cameras and breath tests were among the items stolen from cops. (Source: News and Star, Carlisle)

16. Things you can’t get on the NHS

A list all PCTs must hold is the catchily-titled Interventions Not Normally Undertaken list – the things the PCT won’t normally pay for patients to have. The Western Mail got hold of the lists for all trusts in its area, and revealed variation between each one. (Source: Western Mail)

17. Truancy ending in court

Remember when councils got the power to take parents to court if children played truant? Is it still well used? The Bristol Evening Post used FOI to find out about 500 parents taken to court. (Source: Bristol Evening Post)

18. Missing children

Schools will report children who don’t turn up for school and whose parents can’t be contacted over a period of time to the local education authority. There are many theories as to where these children go – they may have just moved, for example. In Bradford, 250 children have been reported missing. (Source: Bradford Telegraph and Argus)

19. Animal rescues

Forget cats up trees, the collection of animal rescues fire crews in Swindon deal with is much more exotic, according to figures released under FOI. (Source: Swindon Advertiser)

20. Crime on the buses

Levels of crimes committed on buses in Birmingham were released to the Birmingham Mail under FOI legislation. The police insist they are getting on top of violent crime on the buses, but it’s still information every bus user will want to read. (Source: Birmingham Mail)

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