FOI Friday: How the Local Democracy Reporter scheme is making the most of FOI

ldrs

It’s just under a year since the contracts were awarded for the Local Democracy Reporting Service, the scheme funded by the BBC which is aiming to ensure more councils are covered in more depth.

But it’s not just through council meeting reports that authorities are being scrutinised – the LDRS reporters are also making fine use of the Freedom of Information Act.

In a rare return for the FOI Friday blog, here are 10 stories shared with the public via the LDRS based on FOI results:

Asylum seeker numbers < Gloucestershire (Leigh Boobyer)

The number of unaccompanied asylum seekers sent to Gloucestershire in the past five years has been revealed.

Figures released in a Freedom of Information request to the Local Democracy Reporting Service showed that 63 children seeking asylum were sent to Gloucestershire since the start of 2013.

The county council has had to take these children under its wing, as it is legally obligated to do, and provide specialist support for them.

Ghost houses in Kensington and Chelsea < (Talia Shadwell)

New figures show hundreds of wealthy homeowners allowed their properties in the borough where Grenfell Tower burned to remain empty for two or more years, as the local Tory council’s leaders seek powers to take over their properties for people in need.

Kensington & Chelsea is in the midst of a housing crisis, and its already-pressured housing stock shrank further following the Grenfell tragedy, which cost 72 lives, and displaced many more.

In the 2017/18 financial year, figures provided under the Freedom of Information Act (FOI) show 611 Kensington & Chelsea homeowners were ordered to pay the empty property premium council tax for homes unoccupied for two or more years.

The council recorded 1,646 empty or unfurnished properties in the borough in total in the same period.

Section 106 money unspent < Buckinghamshire (Jasmine Rapson)

District councils are sitting on millions of pounds of community cash handed over by developers during planning talks – a move which has been branded “an absolute disgrace”.

Figures unearthed through a freedom of information request show district councils in south Bucks have failed to spend at least £9.5 million of money received from developers after 2013.

Section 106 agreements are negotiated between councils and developers, with funding earmarked for social and community projects, including affordable housing.

Compromise agreements at councils < Teesside (Alex Metcalfe)

TWO Teesside councils have spent more than £650,000 on keeping ex-staff from claiming against them in the past three years.

Stockton Council has spent £468,570.64 on 44 “compromise agreements” with departing staff since 2015/16.

One former employee received £44,784.68 in 2017/18 after reaching a deal.

Are you preparing for Brexit? < Hampshir (William Rimell)

ONLY one of west Hampshire’s four main councils is preparing for Brexit, it has been revealed.

Hampshire County Council says it is currently producing a report, looking at what impact of leaving the European Union on March 29 will have on the region and its residents.

The authority said the report will look at the effects of a Brexit outcome both with and without a deal.

But, disclosing the information under a Freedom of Information request, Southampton City Council, along with Test Valley Borough Council, both confirmed that they had not undertaken a Brexit impact study, and had “no plans” to conduct one.

The main reason given by both council was not wanting to spend “excessive” amounts of taxpayers’ cash on conducting a report on an issue that has “many unknowns”.

Winchester City Council did not respond to the request.

Racist grafitti < Nottinghamshire (Kit Sandeman)

There have been huge numbers of racist and sexist graffiti reported in Nottingham in recent years.

Since 2011, there have been 2,617 pieces of graffiti removed by the city council.
Overall the number of incidents is declining, however there was a small increase in 2017/18 compared to the year before.

From a peak of 589 racist and sexist incidents in 2011/12, there were 184 last year.
There is also a downward trend in the number of general graffiti, down from 10,969 10 years ago to 3,212 this year.

The figures, which were revealed under the Freedom of Information Act, show around one in every 20 graffiti incidents is classed as racist or sexist.

Littler Fines < Bexley (Tom Bull)

The number of fines handed out by a controversial litter policing service in Bexley has almost tripled, new figures reveal.

Bexley Council hired Kingdom on a trial basis in 2016 to crack down on littering in the borough and made the service permanent earlier this year.

The council has a “zero-tolerance” attitude towards litterbugs, having named and shamed those caught by Kingdom officers during a contentious media campaign last year.

Now, new figures revealed through a Freedom of Information request show how many penalty notices Kingdom has given out since its tenure began.

The cost of the Beast from the East < Hartlepool ( Nic Marko)

Council bosses are underway with their preparations for the winter after it was revealed they spent more than £150,000 battling the big freeze earlier this year.

Figures from a Freedom of Information request showed Hartlepool Borough Council spent £152,415 on winter maintenance from December 2017 to March this year, £30,000 more than the previous year.

During that period Hartlepool, along with the rest of the country, had to contend with conditions from by ‘The Beast from the East’ and also Storm Emma.

Failing ambulance services < Merseyside (Tom Houghton/Alicia Cachia)

The ambulance trust serving Merseyside, Manchester and Cheshire has been SLAMMED for “continual failures”, with the number of serious incidents including abuse towards patients and “sub-optimal” care having soared in recent years.

The North West Ambulance Service (NWAS) has failed to hit crucial targets in recent months, and a damning report has identified “key weaknesses” within the trust.
Also revealed this week were the rising number of “serious incidents” involving the ambulance service – ones that had a “significant effect” on patients.

Figures released by the Reach PLC data unit showed there were 79 of these incidents, including abuse or alleged abuse, confidential information leaked, and “sub-optimal” care during 2017/18. That’s three times as many as 2015/16.

Planning problems < Warrington (Aron Dhillon)

Town Hall chiefs have been told ‘get a grip’ and consult on building a ‘fit for purpose’ planning service to oversee the development of Warrington over the next 20 years.

Cllr Bob Barr, leader of the town’s Liberal Democrats, fears a lack of action could result in the council losing more talented planning officers.

Following a Freedom of Information request by the Local Democracy Reporting Service, the authority confirmed 12 planning officers have left in the last three years.

 

 

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