Freedom Of Information

FOI: The council boss who threatened to sue a hospital

Good work from the Chester Chronicle in uncovering a remarkable spat between a local council and a local hospital.

The Chronicle used FOI to obtain letters between Cheshire West and Chester Council and the Countess of Chester Hospital following a spat between the two bodies.

As Chester West and Cheshire has long been one of the cheerleaders for reducing the strength of FOI legislation, it won’t come as any surprise to hear it was the NHS Trust which has been revealing the information.

The row broke out after the hospital lost a sexual health contract to a neighbouring NHS Trust. Councils are responsible for public health these days, so Cheshire West was the body doing the awarding of this contract.

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FOI Friday: Booze and benefits, not-so-free Christmas parking, councils fining for spitting and more…

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Council makes parking money despite offering free parking < Eastern Daily Press

North Norfolk District Council has defended its publicity attempts after it emerged that it collected more than £3,600 in its pay-and-display machines during a “free parking” weekend.

The Conservative-run council, which has pledged to donate the sum to local foodbanks, has been criticised by the North Norfolk Labour Party which said motorists had been confused over the Christmas weekend and the sum collected made a mockery of the scheme.

The people claiming benefits because of booze (Sheffield Star)

Hundreds of people in Doncaster are claiming disability benefits because they drink too much alcohol.

A total of 240 people in the borough claimed one of several forms of disability benefit – and cited alcohol misuse as the main reason, according to Government figures.

The figures represent one claimant in 61 in the borough.

The revelation comes after it was revealed that one man had been given extra cash by Doncaster Council to help pay for his drinking.

Children involved in police stop and searches < Greenock Telegraph

Figures released under Freedom of Information laws reveal the scale of the controversial Police Scotland policy in the area.

During 2014 a total of 68 children aged 12 and under were stopped and searched by officers.

Ten were girls and 58 were boys, including the nine-year-old — the youngest person in the area to be searched.

A further 2,190 13 to 16-year-olds were also searched by officers last year.

… and in Northampton too (Northampton Chronicle & Echo)

Police officers used their stop and search powers on a 10 year old, new figures reveal.

A Freedom of information request by the Chronicle & Echo has revealed that a 10 year old and two 11 year olds were stopped on separate occasions in 2013 and 2014, all on suspicion of having stolen goods.

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FOI Friday: Roadworks hell, hidden art, naughty nurses and bedblocking patients

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Plagues of roadworks < Get Surrey

Dismay has been expressed over a ‘plague’ of roadworks on a stretch between Bramley and Guildford in the past three years.

Information obtained under the Freedom of Information Act revealed that more than 860 individual projects were carried out on the A281 from 2012 to 2014 – an average of 1.3 per day.

The majority of work was carried out in Bramley, with 477 roadworks in the village, with the remainder, 388, on the road through Shalford.

Broken down by year, there was disruption on the Shalford stretch for 160 days in 2012, a drop to 68 days in 2013 and rising to 160 last year.

Hidden Art < South Wales Argus

JUST two per cent of the almost 5,000 pieces in the fine art collection at Newport Museum and Art Gallery is on display, an Argus Freedom of Information Act request reveals.

The museum and art gallery building, which is at risk of closure in Newport City Council’s 2015/16 budget proposals, has 98 works of fine art on display compared to around 4,800 pieces in storage.

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FOI Friday: Post office closures, 653 ambulance visits to one house, the cost per fan of policing football and more…

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Ambulance called to one house over 600 times in one year < Birmingham Mail

An MP is demanding tougher action against bogus 999 callers after shock figures revealed ambulance crews were sent to one Birmingham address 653 times in 12 months.

Selly Oak MP Steve McCabe plans to raise the issue in parliament after statistics showed 30 Midland addresses were responsible for almost 5,000 emergency calls last year.

The figures from West Midlands Ambulance Service show under-pressure paramedics were called out an average of 13 times a day to the homes.

In one case an address in the Shard End area of Birmingham was visited 653 times – an average of almost twice a day – in the last 12 months.

Post office closures by stealth? < ChroniceleLive

The Post Office today stands accused of cutting down its network “by stealth” as an investigation reveals 17 North East branches have been “temporarily closed” for more than a year.

A Freedom Of Information probe has uncovered huge gaps in the region’s Post Office service, with seven out of a total of 20 branches marked as ‘closed temporarily’, having actually been shut for more than five years.

The Communication Workers’ Union has branded the situation “ridiculous” and claimed Post Office chiefs are letting down communities in the region who rely on their local branch.

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10 years on, are you making the most of the Freedom of Information Act?

FOI ideas image: Yarn Deliveries

Two press releases dropped into my inbox today. One was from the Campaign for Freedom Of Information, the other from the Ministry of Justice.

Both sought to draw attention to the fact that at midnight, as fireworks go off on the River Thames and people around the UK struggle with the second verse of Auld Lang Syne, the Freedom of Information Act will turn 10.

A press release from Government celebrating the Freedom of Information Act does seem a little ironic, given the constant threat the legislation appears to be under from both Tory and Labour ministers when in office. But at least in Simon Hughes, the Lib Dem minister, we finally seem to have a fan of the Act.

Ironies aside, both press releases sought to draw attention to the positive impact the FOI Act has had on public accountability.

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FOI: So who is wasting time really? FOI requesters or the Local Government Association?

Remember this FOI press release from the Local Government Association, the publicly-funded lobbying body for local councils in the UK?

FOI campaignI wrote about it back in August, asking why the Local Government Association, which proved itself utterly ineffective at getting the Con/Lib coalition to listen to it when this Government’s spending cuts were being planned in the summer of 2010, was so interested in flagging up extreme examples of FOI use.

There is, of course, a back story here. It involves many councils and councillors – the very people who make up the membership of the LGA – getting the hump at being held to account by FOI.

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FOI Friday: Thefts from churches, Christmas cuts, Coventry’s oldest driver and hospital drug thieves

FOIFRIDAYLOGOTax relief for independent schools < Croydon Advertiser

CROYDON’S independent schools received £6.8 million in business rates relief over the last six years.

Figures obtained by the Advertiser through a Freedom of Information request to Croydon Council show the extent to which the town’s private schools receive financial support.

What gets stolen from churches? < WalesOnline

A PULPIT table, urn, cross and artefacts are among hundreds of items cruel thieves have stolen from Welsh churches, we can reveal.

Details obtained from Dyfed-Powys Police show more than 100 offences were recorded in places of worship across the force area between the start of 2011 and the end of last year.

The thefts weren’t just limited to items from inside the churches as small sums of cash as well as patio furniture, a bike and even a fire have all been taken.

Budget cuts hit Christmas < Yorkshire Evening Post

LEEDS HAS been forced to cut spending Christmas lights by hundreds of thousands of pounds in the wake of budget cuts, the Yorkshire Evening Post has found.

A request made under the Freedom of Information Act has revealed that Leeds has reduced the budget for lights and decorations by over £200,000 since 2009. This year it spent £404,890, compared with the £663,834 total five years ago.

The reduction has been put down to increased pressure on local authority budgets which have been imposed since the coalition government came into power in 2010.

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Perhaps my favourite FOI story of the year…

As a champion of public sector transparency, it’s perhaps ironic that communities secretary Eric Pickles has found spin from one of his aides unravelling somewhat.

But this is a good example of a government department playing ball with Freedom Of Information … and an example for others to follow?

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Journalists and readers: The question at the heart of the future of journalism

A crowd gather to watch a fire in Hackney in the 1930s. Times have changed!

At the heart of the future of journalism is a question all journalists will find themselves having to answer: Just how involved are you prepared to let readers become in your work?

New platforms may have be the physical manifestation of change in our industry,  but platforms come and go. What ‘the internet’ and 21st century technology has brought with it, more than anything, is the ability for people to share their own news, report their own news and decide how they want to consume news.

Amy Webb, the futurologist, speaking at the Online News Association conference in Chicago last month, picked out her 10 trends for journalism in 2015. Wearables, as you might expect, was among them. The challenge she said this would pose journalists would be to answer the question: How will people use these to consume content? The idea of ‘glance optimised headlines’ was floated – stuff people would consume on the wearable of their choice.

Amy suggested most of this was perhaps three years out. Some it still feels very The Jetsons. There are hundreds of wearables being brought to market. Yet again, they will empower our readers to decide how, and when, they consume content.

And that empowerment of the reader isn’t just about how they consume content. Increasingly, readers expect to have a greater say in what we do, how we do it and why we do it. A newsroom which isn’t listening to its readers every day, and constantly thinking of news ways to get the reader involved, is a newsroom which is destined to become irrelevant.

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FOI Friday: Nightmare roadwork roads, self service checkout crimes, cost of PFI and student disciplinary offences

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The roads dug up more than 600 times in a year < Birmingham Mail

Road repairs in Birmingham are causing traffic chaos with some routes being dug up almost every day for the past FIVE years, the Birmingham Mail can reveal.

Workmen have had to carry out maintenance on Birmingham’s Broad Street three times a week since 2009. The entertainment district – known as the Golden Mile – has been dug up an astonishing 684 times.

Yet it is not the most repaired road in the city.

Crime caused by self-service checkouts < Sunderland Echo

FORGETFUL shoppers are turning other wise law-abiding citizens into criminals after it was revealed that cash-back worth £1,260 was stolen from self-service tills in Sunderland in the last three years.

Figures obtained by the Echo via a freedom of information request to Northumbria Police, show thefts are going up year-on-year in line with the increase of popularity of automated systems in supermarkets.

But police say many people do not realise that pocketing cash accidentally left behind at self-service checkouts is theft and will be treated as such. And those caught on CCTV can often find themselves appearing in newspapers and online as part of crime appeals.

Forty-seven thefts of cashback were reported between April 2011 and March this year within Sunderland Area Command, after being left at self-service tills. Thirteen thefts were recorded in 2011/12, increasing to 16, in 2012/13 and 18 in the last financial year.

Youngest fire-arm offenders < Cambridge Evening News

A boy aged just 11 is now the youngest person in Cambridgeshire to be arrested over a firearms offences, shock data has revealed.

Information released by the Cambridgeshire force has also uncovered the youngest children arrested over drugs and sex crimes.

The youngest children arrested over sex offences are two boys aged just 10 years old.

One boy was arrested on suspicion of sexually assaulting a woman and another was arrested over the rape of another boy aged under 13 years old. Both were given a reprimand and no further action was taken.

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