FOI

FOI: Thinking beyond the obvious when asking for data

Last week, many newspapers and other media outlets carried stories triggered by and FOI which asked for details of the crimes committed by children.

Nothing unusual in that, given how common the ‘x number of 10 year olds arrested for x’ which have been made possible by FOI over the years.

But this particular FOI – a product of a partnership between security firm ADT and the Victim Support charity – tackled the subject differently, and there’s a handy tip for all journalists in the way they did it.

The FOI request asked for the number of burglaries committed in an area, and the number which could be traced back to young people under 18.

The result was an eye-catching headline for the partnership, which is seeking to raise attention to the issue of burglaries committed by young people.

The Victim Support press release states:

Nottinghamshire, Greater Manchester and London had the highest proportion of burglaries committed by juvenile offenders. Where an offender had been identified those police forces found under-18s were involved in 43 per cent, 41 per cent and 37 per cent of break-ins respectively.

The police force area with the lowest percentage of burglaries by under-18s was Wiltshire, at just three per cent, followed by Norfolk (9.8 per cent), Thames Valley (13.9 per cent) and Durham (14 per cent).

A great example of looking beyond the obvious headline possibilities when thinking up what to ask for when submitting an FOI. An absolute number can carry a great headline, but a well-crafted comparison can take a story in an entirely different direction.

FOI Friday: Bouncing babies, sex offence tickings off and pensioners on drugs

FOI ideas image: Yarn Deliveries

Some very bouncing babies < Huddersfield Examiner

Hundreds of Huddersfield’s bouncing babies are tipping the scales more than 2lbs above the national average.

Figures reveal about 100 babies per year are born at Calderdale and Huddersfield NHS Foundation Trust weighing in excess of 9lb 9oz.

The national averages are 7lb 8oz for a boy and 7lb 4oz for a girl.

Hospital records show that from 2012 to 2014 there were 314 newborns recorded as weighing 9lb 9oz or more.

Sex offences which just result in a telling off < Whitby Gazette

Police are letting paedophiles and sex offenders escape without a criminal record – meaning they could still work with children.

That’s the finding of a Yorkshire Regional Newspapers investigation which has revealed Community Resolution Disposals (CRD), designed to punish minor, first time offenders, have been handed out to people who had admitted possessing child porn or committing a sexual assault.

Angry campaigners fear that it could allow potentially dangerous sex offenders to “slip under the net” – and that North Yorkshire Police are letting serious offenders “off the hook”

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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: Clown crimes, daily A&E visitors, attacks on buses and pauper funerals

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Sexual exploitation within a police force < Birmingham Mail

Three West Midlands Police officers abused their position of authority by sexually exploiting underage children in the last two years.

The predators in uniform were sacked or resigned after being convicted at court for targeting a 15-year-old and two 14-year-olds.

Meanwhile, other officers from the force have been dismissed or disciplined for a range of offences or conduct relating to sexual exploitation of members of the public.

The shocking details were revealed after a Freedom of Information request by the Mail to the force.

The problem with clowns < Liverpool Echo

Disguised with colourful wigs and white face paint, the Echo today reveals how crooks dressed as clowns carried out bogus charity collections, vandalised property and even armed robbery.

Police on Merseyside dealt with 14 incidents involving people posing as clowns in the past two years – and most were no laughing matter.

One of the red-nosed crimes was caught on camera, when a robber dressed as a clown walked into a Walton shop in July to demand cash.

Attacks on buses < Cambridge News

sleeping girl was groped on a Cambridge school bus and is among victims of sex attacks and violent abuse while travelling on public transport.

Hair pulling, throat grabbing, torrents of verbal abuse, racist onslaughts using the ‘n-word’ and sex attacks have been reported to Cambridgeshire police after the incidents happened on buses in the county, new data has revealed.

There has been a total of just 21 such incidents reported to the force since 2012 but documents obtained by the News detailing what happened make for disturbing reading. And police have issued advice on what to do in a dangerous situation on a bus.

Visiting hospital every other day < Liverpool Echo

A 45-YEAR-OLD man went to A&E at the Royal Liverpool Hospital more than 150 times last year.

The patient racked up a total of 164 casualty attendances between January and December 4, according to records obtained through Freedom of Information requests.

This means he was attending A&E once every two days on average.

A second patient – an 84-year-old woman – visited A&E at the hospital 140 times over the same period, while a third patient – a 55-year-old man – clocked up 102 visits.

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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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FOI: The council which tried to keep spending cuts hitting vulnerable people a secret

Staffordshire County Council, perhaps the only council in the country which tried to keep cuts a secret

Do you remember last year (so long ago!) when Staffordshire County Council tried to embarrass FOI requesters by ‘naming and shaming’ those costing the authority the most because of their frequent requests?

There were numerous problems with their ‘data’ – not least the fact it used average costs when everyone knows one FOI can be far more time-consuming than the next.

And then the Ampp3d data journalism team at the Mirror extrapolated the cost of FOI in Staffordshire from the council’s total budget, and found it ran to 0.003%. The price of transparency clearly isn’t that much of a burden.

One killer point made by Paul Bradshaw was the fact that the ‘name and shame’ list didn’t outline what people were actually asking for, so it was very hard for an individual to come to their own conclusion on whether or not it was money well spent. It appeared that Staffordshire County Council’s view that it wasn’t.

Now a story in Uttoxeter News has emerged which appears to show that perhaps the council could save money if it was just a little bit more open with information in the first place.

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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 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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