FOI FRIDAY: 10 FOI ideas for journalists is back!


Welcome to the return of FOI – a weekly look at FOI stories which are worth sharing (and in many cases, copying).

As an added incentive to read on, this blog will also celebrate/shame those councils who prove that actions speak louder than words when it comes to delivering on the principles of FOI and accountability.  

Asking councils for the results of surveys – Perthshire Advertiser

Councils are always running surveys to get the views of people – but how often do we get to find out what people think as a result? The Perthshire Advertiser used FOI to get the full results of surveys into the impact Perth’s Winter Festival had on traders – and found there was much more to digest than the summary presented to local councillors.

The fastest speeds recorded on roads – Crawley News

FOIs about the number of people caught speeding, and the most likely place to get nabbed for speeding, are as frequent as an Aston Villa defeat these days. But I liked this take from the Crawley News, which sought to find out the highest speeds detected by police, and where.

How police dispose of unclaimed property – West Briton

The best FOI stories are the ones which really dig out some good gems in the details. The West Briton’s report involved data on what the police in Devon and Cornwall had disposed of as ‘unclaimed property.’ It turns out they were active on ebay to shift a variety of unusual goods.

Drugs tests in the army – Yorkshire Post

With local loyalty to specific regiments in the Army generally as strong as ever, FOI requests asking for information those regiments can uncover some interesting stories. This one from the Yorkshire Post revealed that 10 soldiers had been dismissed from the Yorkshire Regiment for drug abuse in the last two years.

The hours lost to hoax 999 ambulance calls – Daily Post North Wales

The Daily Post asked a slightly different question of the ambulance service in North Wales, asking not just for the number of hoax calls (as opposed to attacks on ambulances, which is far more common in terms of FOI requests), and the hours wasted as a result.

Drink drivers are getting younger – Gloucestershire Echo

The Gloucestershire Echo’s story on drink driving stood out for the great line which covered off the age of the youngest drink driver caught by the police – a 17-year-old, who, obviously, isn’t old enough to drink.

How safe is your rail station? – Wrexham Leader

Good use of familiar data from the Wrexham Leader to report on the sorts of crimes which are being reported at train stations in its area.

What do inmates get their hands on in prison? – Liverpool Echo

One of my frustrations with the Freedom of Information Act is that often people don’t repeat requests once they’ve been reported once, as the story has been done. But with each new year surely there is the chance to dig into new data on the same issue. The Liverpool Echo story on what has been confiscated from prisoners in Liverpool is a great example of getting this right.

Where does the police helicopter spend most of its time? – WalesOnline

FOIs from political parties always need to be treated with a degree of caution but that doesn’t alter the fact they can be very good stories all the same. Plaid in Wales got information which showed where the police helicopter spent most of its time.

People who get removed from the sex offenders’ register – Birmingham Mail

Who knew you could appeal to get removed from the sex offenders’ register? Presumably the 40 people in the Midlands who successfully managed to do so in recent years. A great find reported by the Birmingham Mail.

This week’s Moaning Authority is…. Boston Borough Council, Lincolnshire

To Boston in Lincolnshire, for our first look at authorities who would prefer it if we just paid out taxes and didn’t ask any questions.

Councillors in Boston are currently drawing up plans on how to deal with ‘vexatious’ customers (taxpayers).

According to the Boston Standard:

Coun Spencer [in charge of finance] told the committee that between 2009-2014 the individual had made 15 recorded complaints and 17 Freedom Of Information (FOI) requests.

He said: “That individual has cost this council thousands. That’s important and why we need to seek to adopt this policy.” He said that the new document should aim ‘not to compromise the integrity of the council’.

Call me old fashioned, but perhaps establishing why the man in question felt the need to make those complaints and submit those FOIs might be a better starting place. After all, surely Boston councillors all agree with the principle of the right to know.






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