FOI Friday: CCTV in high schools, parking charges, bad tickets and swine flu

1. CCTV cameras in secondary schools

Submitting FOI requests to schools can be endurance test compared to approaching a local education authority for summary information they hold – but it can be worth it, as this story from the Coventry Telegraph proves. It used FOI to ask secondary schools how many CCTV cameras they had and where they were placed. One school revealed it had 112 cameras, roughly one for every 10 pupils. (Source: Coventry Telegraph)

2. Luxury cars at a time of cuts

Durham Police says it needs to save £6million and has just made 86 people redundant as part of government cuts. It also plans to have 110 fewer police officers. But the Northern Echo has reported on an FOI which revealed that £100k was spent on four luxury cars for senior officers. (Source: Northern Echo)

3. Paying extra parking charges

PARKING ticket machines kept almost £100,000 for Mole Valley Council last year by not giving change, the Advertiser newspaper reported. It used FOI to ask the council to reveal the total value of parking charges in council car parks, and how much was actually paid. There was a £100k difference, attributed by shopkeepers to the fact a lot of parking costs £1.80 for two hours, rather than £2 – and the machines don’t give change. (Source: Thisissurreytoday).

4. ‘Taking other offences into consideration”

An interesting one from the Runcorn and Widnes Weekly News, revealing that 70% of vehicle crime in Halton was solved last year in a way which meant nobody can ever be convicted for the offence:

Figures released by Cheshire Constabulary following a Freedom of Information request by the Weekly News show there were 1,001 reported incidents of vehicle crime in the borough between January 20, 2009, and January 19 this year.

Of those, 196 were detected (solved) and of these, 137 were solved via the method of having offences ‘taken into consideration’.

‘Taken into consideration’ (TIC) involves a criminal who has been caught for an offence and is going to be convicted before a court, being offered the chance to ‘wipe the slate clean’.

He or she can then admit to other offences they have committed and it may result in them being handed a longer sentence for their original crime.

But the offences they have confessed to do not appear on their criminal record and the offender will not normally be charged for them.

(Source: Runcorn and Widnes Weekly News)

5. The not so Smart car

I’ve nicked the headline to this one straight from the Bolton News, which used FOI to find that almost a quarter of fines issued by Bolton Council’s spy camera car – which parks up next to bus lanes and the like to spot offenders – had to be cancelled. The council admits some were issued in error, while in other cases people were able to demonstrate they weren’t actually breaking the law, such as having loading permits. Getting it right first time to save cash springs to mind. (Source: Bolton News)

6. Challenging arguments with FOI

The Bristol Evening Post has covered the proposed sale of 64 parks and open spaces by the council extensively. One of the arguments in favour of the sale, put forward by the council, is that selling the land off for new houses would end anti-social behaviour which often reported at the parks. But the Bristol Evening Post used FOI to ask police for levels of anti-social behaviour reported to officers at those sites:

Of the 64 sites under threat – of which nine have so far been saved following public protest – there were anti social behaviour incidents in 12 of them last year, 14 locations in 2009 and 15 in 2008.

(Source: Bristol Evening Post)

7. Swine flu

The level of swine flu cases dealt with in Gloucestershire finally came to light thanks to persistence from the Gloucestershire Echo, which has had to use FOI to reveal that 66 swine cases were dealt with in hospitals. Why the NHS wasn’t more forthcoming with figures remains to be seen. (Source: Gloucestershire Echo)

8. Lyons Review – six years on

I regularly feature FOIs which involve journalists returning to a big policy announcement to see what the impact was. Few involve tracking back to a decision made six years ago. In 2004, the government embarked on a major plan to shift as many jobs as possible out of Whitehall. The idea being that it’s cheaper outside London. In 2006, I did an FOI article for the Liverpool Daily Post which revealed only a handful of jobs made it to the North West. Now, the Daily Mail comes at it from a different angle: How much it cost in redundancy to move a quango to Coventry: £2million for 71 staff didn’t want to move at all. Not quite the saving Sir Michael Lyons, author of the review, would have had in mind. (Source: Daily Mail)

9. Children carrying offensive weapons

The Edinburgh Evening News reports on the number of cases of under 16s caught with offensive weapons, including a nine-yearold with a broken snooker cue. The paper used FOI to ask for the total number of cases involving under 16s, and the age and item each person was carrying. (Source: Edinburgh Evening News)

10. Danger at level crossings

A good use of FOI with the British Transport Police by the Cambridge News, which asked for the number of people caught ignoring traffic signals and nipping across a dangerous railway level crossing. BTP was able to confirm 100 cases because the level crossing has CCTV, from which 51 prosecutions began. (Source: Cambridge News)


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