FOI Friday: Council workers earning less than a living wage, mental health wards and publicly-funded competitions

1. The impact of the closure of mental health wards -Burnley Express

This FOI from the Burnley Express really impressed me because it illustrates brilliantly how FOI can be used to paint a fuller picture than an organisation would otherwise seek to reveal. Lancashire Care NHS Trust, the mental health trust for Lancashire, plans to end all in-patient mental health care at Burnley General Hospital. Some patients will be moved to Preston – around a 60 to 70 mile round trip – and in 2014, dementia care will move to a site near Blackpool, almost a 100-mile round trip.

The trust argues it is about improving services for patients – but how many patients will be affected? That was the nub of the Express FOI, which is well explained in the article because it does what few FOI articles do – revealing what questions they asked before going into the answers.

Figures for the final six months of last year show the three wards in Burnley and the Paediatric Intensive Care Unit were very busy. The PICU ward was 91.2% full, two of the others were at full or over full, at 99% and 102%, and the third was 56% full.

According to the Trust, 472 teenagers have been admitted to the PICU ward in the last five years. 489 patients were admitted with dementia.

The new Blackpool development, a car boot sale site at Wyndyke Farm, off Preston New Road, is expected to open in 2014. Its 30 dementia and 16 PICU beds will serve the whole of Lancashire. The Trust says it is reducing dementia care in hospital because of developments in community services.

The numbers rather suggest that there won’t be enough beds, and those that there are will be up to 50 miles away. The numbers from the FOI request show, if nothing else, that there’s no numerical reason for closing the wards. Change for change sake?

2. Council’s dog poo crackdown is well, you know – Kidderminster Shuttle

Here’s a good example of FOI enabling residents to hold a council to account. The Kidderminster Shuttle probably covered the launch of the local council’s crackdown on dog poo – I imagine it warranted a press release. Shame, then, that a year on, and FOI reveals little action materialised.

3. Illegal gypsy sites – Burton Mail

When an illegal gypsy camp appears near someone’s house, the council is normal the first place that person calls for help. The Burton Mail used FOI to find out how many such camps had been reported in the last three years in their area – almost 100.

4. The impact of new parking rules – Birmingham Post

Parking tickets are often the subject of FOI requests – but here’s a different take on how to do it. The Birmingham Post used FOI to find out how many more tickets had been issued following the extension of parking rules to cover evenings and Sundays. The number of tickets issued has risen 74% – a nice little earner some might say.

5. Police cuts confirmed – Halifax Courier

The coalition government promised that frontline police officers would not be cut as police budgets were reduced. That doesn’t appear to be the case in Calderdale, where the Halifax Courier used FOI to reveal where the cuts were falling.

6. Council competitions – Wales on Sunday

I’ve seen loads of councils runs competitions with prizes and thought to myself  ‘that’s probably a waste of money’ but I’ve never thought of suggesting it as an FOI and aggregating the results though. Wales On Sunday have though – and it does ask some questions.

7. Council workers living under the breadline – Wigan Evening Post

Here’s a clever idea from the Wigan Evening Post  – start asking local authorities how many members of staff earn less than the Living Wage – a figure calculated by the the Living Wage Unit to reflect the actual cost of living, rather than just the minimum wage. At Wigan Council, one in five earn less than £7.20.

8. Car crime by ward – Cambridge News

Among the many FOI stories you see about crime stats, it’s not often you come across one about car crime, but this article from the Cambridge News is worth a look – it breaks car crime down by ward. Is car crime important? Probably to those in the hotspot area, it is.

9. Missile-throwing yobs – Nottingham Post

I don’t normally include FOI stories which begin life on a press release, but this one was particularly well-timed from Autoglass, the windscreen repair people. It lists the number of missile attacks on cars by police force, timely given the spate of concrete throwing which has made the front pages.

10. How good are councils as employers? – Bradford Telegraph and Argus

There are 67 cases before or recently dealt with by employment tribunal involving Bradford Council staff. Two resulted in combined payouts of £100,000. A sign of a good employer or a bad one? The number being settled out of court suggests we’ll never know.



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