FOI Friday: Councils charging for phone calls, ministerial visits, school away days and abuse by carers

This week’s FOI Friday includes three at the bottom which I think could end up running and running all summer long…

1. Details behind hoax calls (Coventry Times)

Why would you use FOI to get details about fire brigade hoax calls when the fire brigade is normally so happy to help on this issue? Well, the Coventry Times certainly got a lot more information than I’ve seen in other place – such as the percentage of calls which were hoaxes, the number of fire engines sent to fake fires (five on one occasion) and some interesting details about a regular hoaxer.

2. Hospitals paying for funerals (Swindon Advertiser)

A slightly different take on the paupers funeral FOI request which lots of people did last year: The cost of public health funerals. These are funerals which have to be paid for by hospitals when someone who has died in hospital doesn’t have any relatives, or in some cases, relatives who don’t/can’t pay. In Swindon, there have been 40 such funerals since 2007.

3. Slashing mobile phone bill costs (Yorkshire Evening Post)

Lots of people have done FOI requests asking for the number of council staff with council-paid mobile phones, while lots of papers have done ‘shock, horror’ stories about the annual phone bills. But the Yorkshire Evening Post’s take is different. It got the total phone bills for each of three years and a huge drop was evident. Further investigation revealed it was to do with changing supplier. So while it’s not a scandal uncovered, perhaps it’s still an important story to demonstrate how councils can save money.

4. Abuse by carers (Lancashire Telegraph)

The Lancashire Telegraph used FOI to find out how many council-employed carers had been disciplined or dismissed for abusing elderly residents. The answer: 23. Lancashire’s a big county, but it’s a still a worrying story.

5. Gym slip (Evening Gazette, Middlesbrough)

The Middlesbrough Evening Gazette, like other papers, has used FOI to get details of compensation claims made by people injured in schools. The report linked here is probably the most detailed yet, setting out how one council paid £9,000 to someone who slipped in a school gym, along with details of other payouts – including paying for thefts.

6. Jobs get cut – but the agency spending goes on (Sunday Sun)

With the axe falling at councils across the country, it’s perhaps a surprise that authorities are still paying agency staff. What’s probably more surprising is how much is being spent on agency staff – somthing the Sunday Sun uncovered using FOI.

7. Violent crime in schools (Wales on Sunday)

Politicians in Wales seem much more ready to use FOI to uncover a story – I’m not sure if that says more about openness or about their tenacity. Either way, this FOI is interesting. It reveals the number of violent crimes recorded by police in schools in Wales – roughly three a day, most of which were in South Wales. An FOI worth tucking away if your police force reckons it can’t extract this sort of data.

8. Paying for private phone calls (Halifax Courier)

Now here’s an interesting one which could run and run. The Halifax Courier reports on how Calderdale Council charges staff for private calls they make from landlines and mobiles. Some £3,000 was raised this way last year. A one-off or common place in town halls?

9. Spending for ‘off site’ training for teachers (Birmingham Post)

Birmingham is well-blessed with places to hold conferences, but one school decided the best place to hold a staff away day was at the Hyatt, arguable Brum’s poshest hotel, at a cost of £1,000. The details of the off-site day came from the council, which made the arrangements and paid the bill but then recouped the costs from the school itself. Rather like the Calderdale example, it could be one which runs and run.

10. Ministerial visits (Local Government Chronicle)

Complaints abound from councils around the country that they are being ignored by the new government – and LGC appears to have some proof. It used FOI to get a list of the local authorities ministers in the Department for Local Government had visited. Answer: Not many. Even the decentralisation minister (the appointment of which appears to defeat the point) has only made four visits. Asking how many meetings have been held with councils could also yield some interesting answers, especially if compared to the previous administration.


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