FOI FRIDAY: Drowned dogs, toxic waste, taser guns and cheer-me-up consultants


FOI stories this week have covered everything from the buildings council own to the hospital which admitted paying consultants to advise on how to cheer up patients. Here are 10 FOI stories which could work for you… 

1. What buildings do councils own?

Here’s a clever FOI to kick things off this week. The communities secretary, Eric Pickles is keen for councils to reveal what properties they own. In Birmingham. the information is already available, thanks to an FOI. Asking the council how much it has spent on business rates in empty properties adds another dimension to the story.

2. Drowned puppies and toxic waste 

Perhaps the most unusual story I’ve ever seen on a story based on an FOI request. The Hinckley Times used FOI to find out the items the borough council had been called out to clear up. Among things collected on 800 call outs to clean up dumped stuff was a bag of drowned puppies, toxic waste, dead horses and the complete contents of woman’s wardrobe, including her underwear.

3. Why councils are spying on you 

FOI requests about use of  the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 use by councils – the ability for them to spy on you if they think you’re doing something wrong – was all the rage last year. But this FOI request by the Sheffield Star proves it is worth doing again, because councils continue to use the powers. In Sheffield’s case, 30 times in the last year.

4. Arrests at festivals 

The BBC in south Scotland used FOI to find out how many arrests there had been at a local festival called Guid Nychburris day every year for the past five years, and how it compared to the Saturday before and the Saturday after each event. Arrests go up 50%. Such year-on-year comparison for events elsewhere in the country could be interesting.

5. The cost of RAF rescues

This one is a bit niche to areas where the RAF might come out and rescue folk, but it’s a good one all the same. The Journal in Newcastle reports on how £42,000 has been spent rescuing people from their cars after being caught out by the tide at Holy Island in Northumbria.

6. The cost of hotel bookings at a council 

Shropshire Council spent £2,000 on putting four councillors and the chief executive up in four-star hotel in Bournemouth to attend a conference, for three nights. In other words, £500 per person. Good value? I guess that’s the point of FOI – it allows tax payers to decide.

7. Use of taser guns

How often every month do you think police in Sunderland deploy taser guns? Once? Twice? Try 55 times  … ever month. Some concern to that after the Sunerland Echo got hold of the numbers under FOI.

8. Personal injury payouts in schools 

The current ‘gift which keeps on giving’ FOI is almost certainly this one. I think it began life in Liverpool, where the Liverpool ECHO revealed how a splash of custard warranted a payout. This time, it’s the BBC who have asked Staffordshire County Council for details of payouts. The largest payout in Staffordshire was £10,000 to  someone who fell over on some logs.

9. The cost of morale consultants

You wouldn’t begrudge a hospital trust spending more on consultants, would you? But what if they weren’t medical consultants, but the pen-pushing type? There appears to be some good stuff to be had by asking hospitals what they’ve spent on consultants. Colchester Hospital spent £52k on consultants who advised how to boost morale of staff and patients. The latter, I’d have thought, could be achieved by making them better.

10. Affordable housing 

House prices might be falling (or rising, depending on which day you see a Daily Express front page) but it’s still nigh on impossible for young people to get on the property ladder. Part of the problem continues to be a lack of affordable housing. Councils are supposed to have targets on the number of affordable houses built in their area to help solve housing problems – but many aren’t meeting them. The Uttoxeter Advertiser reports on FOI information which revealed the local council could be doing more.

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FOI Friday is compiled using Google searches and tips sent to this blog. If you’ve seen a good FOI story, please link to it below or contact me via Twitter at @davidhiggerson














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