FOI Friday: FIFA costs, secret letters, mystery names and put down dogs

Oooh.. a secret

1. Asking for more than just numbers

It’s easy to fall into the trap of just asking for numbers and data under FOI – after all, there’s a heck of a lot to go after. But asking for correspondence between parties, or responses to consultations can often lead to excellent stories too.

To illustrate that point, here’s a story from the Fulham Chronicle, which began life in Inside Housing. The local council leader has been trying to get some flats demolished and, perhaps unsurprisingly, has run into problems from residents who quite like living in their houses. Inside Housing obtained a letter from the council leader to a government minister pleading for help:

Mr Greenhalgh scrawled ‘I really need your help on this’! at the end of a typed letter to minister for decentralisation Greg Clark regarding future of the West Kensington and Gibbs Green Estates. His letter to Mr Clark – obtained by Inside Housing magazine under the Freedom of Information Act – concerns the council’s bid to get the government to scrap legislation that would allow tenants to transfer ownership of their homes – of which 750 are earmarked for demolition – from the council to a housing association set up by themselves.

2. Top 10 most expensive police investigations

It may be that Lothians Police just happened to have this information to hand, but it’s fascinated that the Edinburgh Evening News got so much out of this FOI request – asking for details of the top 10 most expensive operations run by the police in the area. One murder case tops the list – beating even the investigation which followed the Glasgow Airport bombings.
Mr Who?
Remember the story the other week about how Downing Street used fake IDs on letters for security reasons? (We used to do something similar to avoid complaining customers on the phone at a well known toy shop I used to work in).
The BBC reports on this week that the JobCentre is at it too to protect the identities of workers in difficult situations. They call them ‘office names.’ This one could run and run?
And here’s another just waiting to be repeated elsewhere: How much councils spend on ‘interesting’ phone calls, such as the speaking clock and premium rate numbers. Quite what information was released is unclear – full phone bills or whether the FOI officer collated details for specific types of numbers, eg 123 and 0871.

Ages ago, the Liverpool ECHO asked the question of health authorities: “What has been reported stolen in hospitals?” The BBC in Kent has now done the same, and the results are remarkable:

An autopsy table and defibrillators were just some of the items reported stolen by hospitals in Kent and Sussex.

Equipment stolen from the Maidstone and Kent and Sussex hospitals included a security camera, a toilet seat and a car park ticket machine. East Sussex Hospitals reported £14,784 worth of equipment lost or taken in 2009-10 including a £6,000 patient monitor and lead from a hospital roof.

A Scottish whodunnit?

North of the border now and the Daily Record reports on 42 unsolved crimes committed inside the Scottish parliament. There were 60 crimes in total:

The offences include one assault, 11 breaches of the peace, 24 thefts, including that of a bike, and seven allegations of criminal threats. A charge of racial abuse and two instances of urinating in public also featured. A package containing material “likely to cause injury” – a razor blade – was also sent to the Parly. Three packages containing obscene content were also examined after being posted to offices at the parliament.

7. Training for councillors

Wales On Sunday lifts the lid on the courses councillors are sent on by the councils they run. One council sent 12 councillors on a two-day speed reading course (presumably advanced speed reading is a one-day course) while another sent six councillors to be taught how to manage their email inboxes.

8. Globe-trotting police officers

The overseas travel bills for councils have come under close scrutiny in recent weeks, but now the Sunday Mercury has turned its attention to the overseas bills for West Midlands Police:

Figures released to the Sunday Mercury under the Freedom of Information Act reveal that West Midlands Police officers have travelled to far-flung destinations such as Vancouver, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Sydney in the last three years.

Some of the visits listed by the troubled force are decribed as conferences or training sessions – but details of many others have been redacted, and obscured by thick black censor’s ink to conceal the reason for the trips.

One trip last year, details of which have been withheld in this manner, was to an undisclosed location and cost taxpayers nearly £10,000.

Sepp Blatter: Lah lah lah

9. Offside

Is it possible to localise the FIFA corruption row? It is if you happen to cover one of the cities which bid to host part of the tournament, had it come to England in 2018. The Sunday Sun used FOI to establish how much councils in the North East spent – and on what – as part of the bid to get the football to the North East. It included quite lavish spending on a FIFA party which came to inspect the North East.

10. Dogs put down

Wales On Sunday reports on the number of dogs which get put down by councils in Wales every year. The number is very low in the context of the number of dogs they end up housing as strays, but it’s a very sad tale all the same (no pun intended).

11. Dangerous roads

And finally, a simple but effective FOI request – asking for the top 10 streets with the most accidents. The Warrington Guardian reports the details straight. Putting it into the context of how long each road is important, or perhaps asking for the top 10 accident blackspots.

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