FOI Friday: Truancy figures done properly, the data protection FOI strikes gold again, and a greater focus on public transport crime


10 good examples of FOI in action from the local, regional and national press:

1. The injuries caused to postmen by dogs – Wales On Sunday

Dog bites postman may not be the most original story of all time – but the injuries postmen in Wales receive when attacked by dogs was certainly eye-opening – from serious injuries to the skull to the slightly more comical, but I suspect very painful, bites on the backside

2. Using FOI to disprove council reasoning for closures – Huddersfield Examiner

This is a brilliant example of how FOI can be used to challenge arguments put forward by councils. Kirklees Council plans to shut a whole bunch of libraries because it can’t afford them. But is it closing the right ones? The Examiner has brought that into question by obtaining the cost to run each library, and dividing it by the number of visits to each library? Some of the most cost effective are the ones at risk.

3. Overpaid Council workers – Kent Messenger

Kent County Council has overpaid council workers (insert Taxpayers Alliance smart comment here) by £1.5million in the last three years due to payroll errors. An interesting story to pursue at a time of cuts?

4. Civil claims against hospitals – North West Evening Mail

The problems at Morecambe Bay Hospitals Trust’s maternity department have been well documented, but this story – based on an FOI submitted by a member of the public – begs new questions: How did problems persist when civil law suits – 37 since 2002 – were coming in left, right and centre? The principle of asking for the number of claims is worth pursuing in other areas too. In the past, some hospital trusts have diverted such requests to the NHS Litigation Authority – the in-house legal service for the NHS.

However, this FOI proves hospitals can answer the queries, and should be able to say what areas of the hospital civil claims relate to.

5. Teachers being made redundant – Swindon Advertiser

If you believe the government, then education – like health – funding is being protected. The reality, however, can be different. The Swindon Advertiser proved this by asking the council for details of the number of teacher made redundant last year. The number – 11 – is expected to rise. In some areas, this can be a reasonably easy FOI to do, if the council collates the information. If not, or in areas where academies are growing in number, this might be one which has to go to every school.

6. How much are the Olympics costing your area? – South Wales Echo

The cost of the Olympics spreads far beyond London, according to this FOI-based story, which revealed the cost of hosting the torch relay through Cardiff was £140,000, with hundreds of thousands put aside to clean the city ahead of football matches.

7. Attacks on public transport which aren’t resolved – Lancashire Evening Post

This is just a personal opinion, but I often think local and regional newspapers don’t take public transport seriously enough – perhaps because often, so few in a newsroom use buses and trains regularly. This story from the Lancashire Evening Post is a good one – most crimes reported on buses don’t get solved.

8. Data protection breaches – Belfast Telegraph

This is an FOI which comes around from time to time but is always worth doing again and again. Asking health authorities, councils and the police for details of their data protection breaches, which have to be recorded and reported to the Information Commissioner, often yields interesting results … and in the case of this story in Belfast, it’s patient details being posted on Facebook.

9. Truancy facts and figures – Teesside Evening Gazette

Truancy FOIs are ten a penny, but few go into the the level of detail that this one, from the Teesside Evening Gazette, did. It reveals the numbers of days lost, the number of prosecutions, the total amount in fines and – thanks to clever use of Tableau – the value of fine against each day lost through truancy.

10. Petrol thefts – Birmingham Mail

A good example of FOI being the start of the story – getting data on fuel thefts led to a really interesting interview with the police on how they are tackling what appeared to have been a recession-triggered crisis.

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FOI Friday is compiled using Google News and tip-offs sent to this blog or to me via Twitter @davidhiggerson






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