FOI Friday: Investigating business grants, frisky Welsh folk and the 104-year-old criminal

1. Spending money to talk about cuts

The Waltham Forest Guardian reports on an interesting spending choice at the local council – an £18,000 advertising campaign to tell people the council would protect local services which people care about. The campaign follows on from another £27,000 campaign to find out which services people wanted protecting.

2. Complaints against social workers

An interesting story from the Coventry Telegraph, which quotes a report obtained using FOI to reveal who makes complaints against social workers in the area. The most interesting fact is that 10% of complaints are made by young people about their care.

3. Partying on the university budget

I’m never sure whether the active use of FOI by politicians in Wales is a good thing or not – largely because I believe politicians only turn to FOI when they are being denied access to information through other channels which they perhaps have a right to request information through. Either way, an Assembly member in Wales used FOI to find out how much universities were spending on hospitality – four in South Wales clocked up £6.4million over three years. One to chew over?

4. Banned from providing approved drugs

Proof of the value of knowing your specialism inside out comes from Pulse, the specialist publication for GPs. It used FOI to ask primary care trusts to provide details of their ‘red lists’ – lists of drugs which are approved for use but which are restricted due to their cost, so can only be used in exceptional circumstances. No surprise that the numbers of drugs on the list has gone up. Given 134 Primary Care Trusts replied to Pulse, it shouldn’t take too long for local PCTs to provide the information to their local newspapers.

5. The return of the OAP criminals

There’s life in this FOI yet – and I think the Sunday Sun has perhaps uncovered the oldest criminal so far. To recap, one of the most popular FOIs in recent times has been asking how many OAPs have been arrested for offences, and for what. The Sunday Sun has found a 104-year-old who was arrested for common assault. The list is brilliant:

The total number of over-65s falling foul of the law includes 328 arrests for sexual offences, 423 violent crimes, 367 thefts and 106 assaults. Out of those sexual violations there were 21 arrests of rape, one by a 77-year-old, and a 67-year-old charged with voyeurism.

6. Where Wales folk get frisky

This is where FOI gets sexy. Sort of. Wales on Sunday used FOI to find out where police had found couples involved in ‘indecent acts’ – locations include railway stations, pubs, woods – and a church. The phrase used is ‘outraging public decency.’

7. Eating disorders

There has been a lot of speculation about the impact skinny models have on young children, and the Brighton Argus perhaps has some proof: It used FOI to ask hospitals how many children had been treated for eating disorders. Around 30 young people sought help – including one aged under 10.

8. Selling off police buildings

A good use of FOI by the Lancashire Telegraph to get into the nuts and bolts of how Lancashire Police plans to make up cash shortfalls. Around £3million will be raised selling buildings. The police force owns 246 buildings, sites and radio masts:

Information also released showed the most expensive property owned by Lancashire Police, according to estimated market value, is the new Preston Operating Centre on Lancaster Road. Priced at £15.2million, it replaced the old Lawson Street station four years ago.

The cheapest property in the portfolio is a £500 electrical substation.

9. Stop and searches

The Daily Record reports on how police do 70 stop and searches a day now in Lothian and Borders – treble the amount in 2008. That’s prompted some questions for the police.

10. How were grants spent?

And to end on one which could run and run. There have been hundreds of cases of companies getting grants to create jobs – but how many deliver? BBC Northampton used FOI to find out how much the East Midlands Development Agency had given to one firm, Kenmark International, and for what. The firm got £416,000 to create 100 jobs within a year, and up to 300 within several years. It currently employs 10. The trick here is get the FOI requests in while you can – the regional development agencies won’t be here for much longer.

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