FOI Friday: Speaking clocks, hospital parking fines, gagging orders and snooping on council staff

1. Court cases dropped for ‘not being in the public interest’

Some fascinating numbers reported in the London Evening Standard as a result of an FOI request to the Crown Prosecution Service, which was asked to reveal how many prosecutions in London were dropped ‘because they were no longer in the public interest’ – often on cost grounds. More than 20,000 cases were dropped in London, a rise on previous years, with critics saying costs are increasingly a factor. One which could run and run elsewhere?

2. Another case of the cost of the obese

FOI requests asking hospitals about what they’ve spent on equipment to deal with obese people are nothing new – but asking the ambulance service could bring in some interesting results, as this story on the Daily Post in North Wales proves.

3. Parking fines. Only new

Here’s a new take on the parking tickets FOI. We’ve all done FOIs about the how much hospitals make from parking charges, but how many parking tickets do they issue? In Aberdeen, it’s around 2000 fines a year. A nice sideline if ever there was one?

4. Use of Section 106 cash

We’ve seen FOI requests about Section 106 cash before. To recap, Section 106 agreements involve developers paying a council for the provision of something needed as a result of their development, such as a playground near a new housing estate. In the past, the FOI requests have asked how much S106 cash has yet to be spent. This example, reported in the Wirral Globe, details how long it is taking Wirral Council to spend S106 cash on the things the money was intended for. In one case, a playground paid for in 1997 has yet to be built.

5. Top 10 dirty streets revealed

Simple, but effective: The York Press used FOI to ask the council for the 10 streets which had requested the most number of clean-ups in the last year. This includes complaints about dog fouling, littering, fly tipping and even the removal of dead animals.

6. Paying to snoop on council staff

A brilliant one from the Sunday Mail in Scotland which reveals how councils north of the border have spent £50k paying private detectives to watch their own staff suspected of taking sickies. Good to know it isn’t just us they snoop on!

7. Police called to accident and emergency

An interesting taking on the ‘violence at the hospital’ FOI theme. Rather than ask the hospital for details, the Bradford Telgraph and Argus asked for the police to reveal how many times they’d been called to deal with incidents at hospitals. Interestingly, the figures differ from the hospital’s own figures.

8. What council staff watch on the web – and how they get in trouble

I think we’ll see this one again and again in weeks to come. The Lancashire Evening Post reports on the websites most viewed (or rather, the ones with the most hits) on Preston Council computers. Fortunatley for the LEP, it outpips the BBC – just, although given we don’t know how the council measures viewing on each site, we don’t know how reliable it is. What we do know, however, is that two people were sacked and 10 disciplined for misuse of the internet. Presumably, not as a result of logging on to the LEP site.

9. The cost of keeping ex staff quiet

With council redundancies on the rise, this could be an FOI to visit time and again. In addition to redundancies, councils also indulge in ‘compromise agreements’ to staff they need to get rid of, which often include a clause not to talk about time at the council. In the Black Country, the Express and Star reports, £2.6million has been spent keeping people quiet.

10. The cost of the Talking Clock

When it comes to telling the time, councils in the North East like to get it right. So they spent £2,500 on ringing the talking clock to be sure. Seriously. Good stuff from the Newcastle Evening Chronicle.



One thought on “FOI Friday: Speaking clocks, hospital parking fines, gagging orders and snooping on council staff

  1. Re: the Gagging Orders (Cost of Keeping Staff Quiet)

    Thanks for finding this article and passing it on.

    They’re not “gagging orders” unless a court issues them – which is an important distinction. In this case, they’ll be gagging clauses.

    Gagging clauses are usually relied upon in circumstances of dispute, where there’s been unlawful / immoral conduct on the part of the employer and they want to buy the signatories’ silence.

    There’s a growing trend for councils to use compromise agreements in all staff departures, whatever the circumstances (this costs about £250 to £350 a time) and they can also be used in redundancy, equal pay, TUPE situations – rather like a sledgehammer to crack a nut.

    Compare and contrast the figures I received for the quoted councils for the year 2010/11. These are for all compromise agreements reached in dispute circumstances. Express and Star results in brackets:

    Wolverhampton City Council – 17 (39)
    Walsall Borough Council – 8 (39)
    Dudley Borough Council – 11 (15)
    Sandwell Borough Council – Refused on cost grounds and appealed to ICO (refused on cost grounds)
    Staffordshire County Council – 9 (Express and Star refused on cost grounds)
    Stafford Borough Council – 1 (6)
    South Staffordshire Borough Council – 1 (3)
    Cannock Chase District Council 1 (1)
    Birmingham City Council – Refused on cost grounds and appealed to ICO (no quantities – only £totals given)

    I know it’s far from scientific, but we could assume that redundancies, equal pay claims, etc. make up the differences between the stated figures

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