A couple of weeks ago, I blogged about an FOI request which made the pages of the Daily Telegraph concerning internet usages at the Department for Transport. Although the data released was of dubious quality in terms of working out which site was viewed the most – it gave figures as ‘hits’ rather than page impressions – it did lift a lid on what civil servants looked at during office hours. Now the Belfast Telegraph has obtained the same information for staff working at Stormont, home of the Northern Irish assembly. I suspect this one will be a gift that keeps on giving across the UK.
Here’s an example of the sort of gripe which regularly appears in local newspapers making it into a national newspaper, thanks to FOI. The Sun used FOI to ask councils up and down the country how much they spent on providing free parking to council staff and officers, and the number of spaces they bought. Of course, there are two sides to this story: councils will argue many employers offer free parking. But when the councils are often the same people hiking up parking fees for the rest of us, it becomes an interesting conflict.
Ever had a bad cabbie experience and vowed to complain, only to forget to do so? Yep, me too. The Manchester Evening News has used FOI to find out what people complain about when moaning about cabbies to the council. There were 1,500 complaints at councils in Greater Manchester, and what makes this story such an entertaining read is the level of detail in it.
The Sunday Sun used FOI to find out how many officers who’d retired – and therefore were getting pensions – had returned to civilian posts within their forces. A total of 130 are knocking around at police forces in the north, and their salaries equal £5.1million. At a time when public sector pensions are under scrutiny, this may well be an FOI worth revisiting for others too.
Sticking with the Sunday Sun, another story based on FOI: the number of children running away from care homes in the North East:
The figures, gathered under Freedom of Information laws, reveal a total of 3,032 children have been reported missing by North authorities since the beginning of 2010.
All the children have been found and the majority returned within 24 hours.
But in one case, a teenager fled a North Tyneside home for 20 days – and a 14-year-old from Newcastle was reported missing 31 times.
Gateshead Council had the most children missing reports filed, with 1,105 reported incidents.
I’ve seen a couple of stories knocking around recently about olympic tickets. The one linked above is in the Bucks Free Press and reveals how many Olympic tickets local councils have been allocated if they want to buy them. The council stresses they will be handed out to good citizens, not taken as freebies by councillors (although you could debate whether a council should be spending any money on Olympic tickets for any reason, I suppose). Councils further afield found themselves piling in for Olympic tickets along with the rest of us. . .
As the Huddersfield Examiner proved when it revealed Kirklees Council had applied for £3,000 of tickets – to be handed out to sporty achievers – but received only £400 worth.
A potential goldmine from the Swindon Advertiser which FOI’d its primary care trust to find out how many patients registered at GPs were marked by their GPs as being obese. Not surprisingly, the figure is rising, but it’s probably the best data source for local obesity.
Is it a myth that rain stops crime? Apparently not. The Evening Times (behind a registration wall unless you copy and paste the story very quickly) reports on how Strathclyde Police was contacted via FOI for any research or documents it had which proved fewer crimes were committed when it rained. Apparently, vandalism is down 25% when it rains, as are burglaries. Rape, however, goes up.
One of the last government’s big policy announcements was making it possible for parents to go to court if their children truanted. But as with many big policy announcements, how well used are such powers several years down the line? The Reading Post found 40 parents in Reading went before the courts last year, of which 14 were punished with conditional discharges, three had parenting orders and half were fined.