Ignored by the party leaders? Maybe local journalism needs to come off the fence

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Local journalism has long been proud of its impartiality when it comes to covering elections. But in failing to see that it’s possible to offer endorsements while still providing balanced coverage, aren’t we effectively making ourselves irrelevant in the most important local conversation of all?

An investigation into the access afforded to local journalists by political parties was published The Bureau of Investigative Journalism on Friday. It concluded that both Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn were short-changing local journalists during the general election.

This won’t come as a surprise to many local journalists – indeed, the Bureau began looking into the issue, and spoke to dozens of local journalists, on the back of hearing about Cornwall Live’s experience with prime minister Theresa May early in the campaign. May’s people refused permission for the website to film the PM, and kept reporters well away from much of the visit.

The Bureau concluded that May has done interviews with regional media, but often has little of substance to say. Plymouth Herald chief reporter Sam Blackledge summed up the experience I’m sure many have experienced brilliantly here. Corbyn, on the other hand, has done fewer interviews, but has given better answers according to some.

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I’ve seen examples which contradict both conclusions – May certainly delivered an answer to ChronicleLive’s Mike Kelly when he opened a press conference with a zinger of a question, while Corbyn made it quite clear he had no intention of talking to BBC North West Tonight when he visited Salford, and the subsequent package on the evening news (which I can’t find online) should shame the Labour Party.

But there’s no denying it’s becoming harder with each election that passes to get the national parties to take the local press seriously. The election of 2005, when I interviewed Tony Blair the day before the poll as was impressed by his apparent depth of knowledge about local issues, seems much longer ago than the 12 years which have passed. Cynics at the time said ‘he was just well briefed.’ These days, even that would be nice.

So what do we do about it, and why is this the case? I suspect local interviews are seen as a potential banana skin to be avoided at all costs. Much better (for the campaign) to be seen in Huddersfield, in front of a hand-picked audience of factory workers, preaching about issues which match the surroundings than risk actually engaging in those local issues.

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FOI Friday: Prisoner complaints, police redundancies, thefts from bars, dangerous dogs and ‘kebab crimes’

FOI ideas image: Yarn Deliveries

‘Kebab crimes’ in Scarborough < Scarborough News

There’s a saying that a pint and a fight are the ingredients to a great British night out, but an investigation has unearthed the shocking crimes committed in Scarborough’s pizza shops and curry houses by rowdy revellers after they’ve sank one too many.

Scarborough’s ‘kebab crimes’ include bloody beatings, callous charity box thefts and staff being racially abused.

And in one incident, a woman was attacked with a doner kebab.

Our probe found out that 19 crimes were committed in takeaways, restaurants and chippys over the past 12 months.
CCTV and a heavy late-night police presence have helped officers nab the majority of offenders, but North Yorkshire Police have now revealed details of the takeaway offenders still on the loose.

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FOI Friday: Jollies in Cannes, guilty police, empty homes, naughty soldiers and road rage incidents

So does a trip to MIPIM pay off? < Brixton Buzz

£20,000 was taken by Lambeth Council from four property developers to help fund the trip to Cannes by four council employees. A Freedom of Information Request shows that although “conversations took place” at MIPIM World back in March, no actual deals were reached following the local authority jolly.

Which must have been disappointing for all involved…

MIPIM World is the international property fair for corporate developers. It is the Cannes Film Festival equivalent for folk who believe in gentrification. Lambeth Council wanted a piece of the action, but understandably felt slightly nervous about spending £20,000 of local authority money on a trip to the South of France.

Police found guilty of crimes in last five years < Belfast Live

Forty-six police officers in Northern Ireland have been found guilty of committing crimes in the past five years.

According to figures released to Belfast Live by PSNI, the law-keepers have turned lawbreakers by committing a variety of crimes including tampering with a motor vehicle and death by dangerous driving.

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FOI Friday: Children at risk, data lost in the post, unsolved murders and the not-so-smart motorways

FOIFRIDAYLOGOCriminals avoid jail despite dozens of crimes < Get WestLondon

Criminals in London are escaping jail sentences for serious crimes, despite dozens of previous convictions for similar offences.

A burglar in London was not given a custodial sentence at a court appearance in June 2014, despite 33 previous burglary offences and 58 total previous convictions, making them the most prolific burglar in the region to avoid jail for an offence last year.

Another criminal who avoided jail for drug offences last year had 26 previous drug convictions, as part of a total 37 previous convictions, according to figures released following a Freedom of Information Act request to the Ministry of Justice.

The not-so-smart motorways < Wolverhampton Express and Star

The fourth lane of the M6 was shut to Midlands motorists on more than 70 days last year because of technology faults, it has emerged.

The extra lane opens up at busy times to ease congestion between junctions eight at West Bromwich and 10a at Essington.

But from January 1 to December 31 there were 74 days where it was out of action, ranging from up to nine hours to less than a minute.

The figures released under the Freedom of Information Act show there were 141 technology faults reported, with the most being in May.

Community service on the up  < Edinburgh Evening News

The number of community service orders dished out by courts in Edinburgh has doubled in the last two years, with crooks carrying out almost 84,000 hours of unpaid work last year alone – the equivalent of nine and a half years.

But official figures revealed almost half of all payback orders – handed out as an alternative to prison – are never completed, landing many offenders back in court if they fail to explain themselves.

Edinburgh City Council has spent more than £7 million in the last three years carrying out and supervising the orders, but a spokeswoman today insisted the majority of the cost – which is pumped into staffing and tools – would be covered by a government justice grant.

Figures obtained by the News through a Freedom of Information request show 839 unpaid work orders were handed out by city courts in 2014, compared to just 420 two years earlier.

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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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FOI Friday: Most frequent ambulance callout addresses, affordable homes, benefits families moved hundreds of miles, and fire crews freeing kids from cars

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52 visits to one address by ambulances … and just two patients taken to hospital < Dundee Telegraph

Ambulances were called out to a Dundee property a staggering 52 times in just ONE year it has been revealed.

And on just two of those occasions somebody was taken to hospital by paramedics.

The figures, from a Freedom of Information request, also showed crews spent 31 hours and 43 minutes going back and forward between the property between April 2013 and April 2014. In Arbroath, the Scottish Ambulance Service attended one single property 36 times, with only four of those occasions ending in someone being driven to hospital. The statistics don’t include nursing or care homes.

Numbers of affordable homes falling in the North East <  The Northern Echo

HOUSEBUILDING has collapsed in most of the region, The Northern Echo can reveal – despite Government claims of a “success story”.

The number of ‘affordable homes’ being built has fallen in 13 of 17 areas since the Coalition came to power, after housing programmes were axed.

And it has plunged sharply in many areas, including in Hartlepool (down 62.5 per cent), Middlesbrough (down 59.1 per cent) and Stockton-on-Tees (down 54.5 per cent).

Fire crews freeing children from cars once a week < Wolverhampton Express and Star

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FOI Friday: Air gun attacks, stressed out students, pauper funerals and troubled families

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Bedroom tax rent arrears < Wolverhampton Express and Star

Out of 3,803 Sandwell people affected by the removal of the Government’s spare room subsidy, 2,432 have now fallen into rent arrears.

But the Labour-led council has not yet evicted anyone for falling into arrears as a result of what has become widely known as the bedroom tax.

The numbers of people in arrears and affected by the policy were revealed under the Freedom of Information Act after a request by a member of the public.

Troubled families < Brighton Argus

Nearly 1,000 problem families have been identified in Brighton and Hove since the launch of a Government scheme nearly two years ago.

The Troubled Families programme was launched as part of a scheme to get children off the streets and to help families get back into work.

According to a Freedom of Information request, the city council has identified 963 “troubled families” in Brighton and Hove and has so far “turned around” 317 of these.

Prisoners in your area < Daily Post

More than a third of all North Wales prisoners are from a single county, latest figures reveal.

There are a total of 857 from the region behind bars at prisons in England and Wales – 308 of which originate  from Flintshire.

The county also has the third highest number in Wales  – beaten only by Cardiff and Swansea.

The next highest in North Wales is Gwynedd with 163 prisoners followed by Wrexham (129), Conwy (118), Denbighshire (90) and Anglesey (49).

The figures, based on data up to December 31 last year, have been released following a Freedom of Information request to the Ministry of Justice.

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