FOI Friday: Why the silence on Brexit?

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It’s probably no surprise to learn that the Government is hiding behind the public interest exemption when it comes to people asking FOI questions relating to Brexit issues.

Take Kent Online, the website of the Kent Messenger group which, as its name suggests, covers the county most likely to be impacted if border issues aren’t resolved by 2019.

Political editor Paul Francis reported this week:

The government is facing criticism after it refused to release details of any contingency plans it had drawn up to cope with possible disruption to Kent’s road network after Brexit.

The Department for Transport ruled it would not be in the public interest for details of any of its plans to be put into the public domain.

It has rejected a Freedom of Information request by Kent Business for details of any proposals to mitigate the impact of Brexit in 2019 should the UK leave without a deal.

Brexit by its very nature involves the whole of the UK – but in different ways in different places. It has the potential to be an FOI goldmine, not just at a national government level, but at a local level too with many local institutions also presumably making plans.

Will local bodies be more prepared to share? It seems remarkable that details relating to the biggest change to UK’s status in a generation are deemed not to be in the public interest for release…

Old favourites and all that

The Daily Post in North Wales published a list of parking ticket hot spots based on the last three months’ activity. It’s an old favourite of an FOI but also a great example of a useful one which updates regularly.

The parking ticket hotspots of North Wales have been revealed.

Figures released by five of the region’s six local authorities under Freedom of Information laws has revealed the spots where motorists are most likely to be slapped with parking tickets.

They have also shown that at least £300,000 has been raked in by councils for parking fines over just a three month period, between July and September this year.

Hospitals refuse children mental health treatment < EssexLive via the NSPCC)

Charity-released stories based on FOI not only provide great stories on a regular basis, but also show a template to successful FOI attempts. This NSPCC one is based around hospital data, a format which can yield many other stories:

More than 500 children were refused mental health services at two separate NHS trusts over the past two years.

Figures released by the NSPCC show that 572 children under the age of 18 were assessed and then not accepted at the North Essex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, and the South Essex Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust.

Assaults on prison staff in Scotland < The Scotsman

A member of staff in Scotland’s prisons is assaulted every two days by an inmate, figures have revealed. Information obtained by the Scottish Tories following a Freedom of Information request shows that in 2016/17 190 staff were attacked by prisoners over a year.

The figure has fallen since 2015-16 when there were 204 assaults, but it has risen since 2014-2015 when 170 staff were assaulted. In total over the past three years, there have been a total of 564 assaults on workers across the country’s prisons.

Scottish Conservative justice spokesman Liam Kerr highlighted the problem ahead of a visit to Kilmarnock Prison, where he will discuss how staff can reduce the level of assaults.

NHS ‘taxing the sick’ through parkings charges < Yorkshire Evening Post

NHS bosses have been accused of “taxing the sick”, as it emerges that tens of thousands of people using the region’s hospitals are being slapped with parking fines.

Hospital trusts in Yorkshire have controversially raked in more than £13m through parking charges, branded “a stealth tax”, during the last financial year. And today, the YEP can reveal the number of patients, family members and staff in Leeds who have been fined for parking at hospital sites.

Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust collected £171,000 last year after penalising more than 10,000 for parking at its sites contrary to its regulations, according to Freedom of Information requests by the YEP. The figure collected was more than double the £81,000 from the previous financial year.

Taxi fares paid for by hospitals < Coventry Telegraph

More than £500,000 has been spent ferrying patients to and from hospital in Coventry and Warwickshire over the past year, Freedom of Information figures have revealed.

West Midlands Ambulance Service spent £426,993 on taxis for patients in Coventry and Warwickshire in 2015/16, which is a whopping increase of 72 per cent on the year before.

Parking machines profit when the don’t give change < Plymouth Herald

Almost £200,000 was raked in by Cornwall Council’s parking machines which don’t give out change.

Parking ticket machines in Cornwall collected an additional £196,000 in unreturned change in 2015/16, and between 2011/12 and 2015/16 collected a total of £1.4m.

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