FOI Friday: Posh cars, charity cuts, ambulance waits and smoking fines

Charity tin

1. The cuts, they hurt 

Good stuff from the Lancashire Telegraph as it set out to find where the cuts are falling at local councils, and who is suffering. For this FOI, it zoomed in on the amount being given out in grants to community groups and charities. No surprise, they’ve been cut. But the level of the cuts – some £3million – show charities are really suffering.

2. Spending on luxury cars

I sometimes wince a bit at stories which reveal how much is spent on luxury cars for public sector bosses. For example, if a police chief constable has a nice car, should we be offended? Probably not. But the Sunday Sun’s revelation that £500,000 a year is spent on cars for senior managers in the NHS in the north east could be seen as a good representation of spending which should be reviewed:

Audi TTs, Mercedes, Jaguar X types, trendy Nissan Qashqais and top of the range BMWs are among the 165 cars being leased to health leaders across the North’s health trusts

We used the Freedom of Information Act to ask eight health trusts how much they’ve spent on leasing cars to trust board members, senior managers and top nursing staff earning more than £54,000 – and a whopping £641,187 has been spent between them.

3. Serious untoward incidents on the rise

I’ve written a lot about ‘serious untoward incidents’ at hospitals, which many journalists have been using FOI to find out about. But this story from the Shropshire Star is worth mention because it not only reveals the sorts of incidents, but also breaks them down by year. The worry here is that the number of cases are going up – a sign of a stretched NHS?

4. How long in an ambulance? 

Using FOI, the Liverpool Daily Post has been able to establish that it can take up to six hours for patients arriving at some hospitals to be transferred into A&E for treatment. The target time is 20 minutes. The LDP sought the average turnaround time for each hospital and the longest turnaround at each hospital.

5. Cuts in beds

Sticking with the LDP, and with health issues, the LDP has also used FOI to find out how many hospital beds have been axed in the last year: around 250. This at a time when both main political parties were promising to support the NHS.

6. Smoking fines – how many?

The smoking ban generated almost as much hot air as smokers did killer fumes, from memory. It certainly has led to many fines in Calderdale, where the Halifax Courier used FOI to find out howfines for smoking had been issued by the council. The highest instance of fines involves taxi drivers smoking in their cabs – some 20 there.

7. Pot holes compensation

We’ve had the stories about how much it will cost to repair the pot holes after last year’s bad winter – but how much has been paid out in compensation? The Express and Star reveals that the amount of money paid out for cars damaged by pot holes has shot up as a result of a bad winter:

In Staffordshire, a total of £47,283 was paid in compensation to drivers whose cars were damaged because of potholes in the 2010 financial year.

This has increased from £9,837 in 2009.

Dudley also saw an increase in compensation payouts in 2010, up to £24,376  from just £8,544 in the previous year.

But in Wolverhampton, just £1,128.11 has been paid out in compensation to drivers in the past three years.

8. Using Facebook to solve crime

The Bristol Evening Post reported on a rise in the number of crimes where Facebook was referenced after asking for information under FOI laws. We’ve seen this one elsewhere – but the paper was also given the number of crimes which were solved via the force’s Facebook page: 79. Presumably, any police force with a Facebook presence will have to keep similar figures to justify the time involved maintaining a Facebook presence.

9. Bottled water

Many roll their eyes when they hear that FOI has been used to find out how much is spent on food or drink. Bottled water is a common one, too – but this appearance in Bedfordshire on Sunday of a trusty favourite is perhaps timely because of the cost-cutting police forces are having to undergo. £100,000 a year on bottled and cooler water? The force insists it’s doing nothing wrong:

“Bottled water is essential for anyone working long hours and officers may need several meals and drinks during this time. It is entirely appropriate that our officers’ health and welfare is accommodated in this way.”

10. Theft of numberplates

An unusual one from the Express and Star in Wolverhampton: Asking for the number of numberplates reported stolen over the last three years. The numbers run into the thousands and are rising.

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