Monday, April 02, 2007

Media update

Weekly FOI round-up...

Iraqi deaths survey 'was robust' - BBC
"The British government was advised against publicly criticising a report estimating that 655,000 Iraqis had died due to the war, the BBC has learnt...Shortly after the publication of the survey in October last year Tony Blair's official spokesperson said the Lancet's figure was not anywhere near accurate. He said the survey had used an extrapolation technique, from a relatively small sample from an area of Iraq that was not representative of the country as a whole...But a memo by the MoD's Chief Scientific Adviser [obtained by the BBC World Service under the FOI Act]...states: "The study design is robust and employs methods that are regarded as close to "best practice" in this area."

Housing Corp refuses to disclose report on problems of £17m project - Computer Weekly
"The Housing Corporation, the quango responsible for distributing more than £2bn a year to housing associations, is refusing to disclose the results of an independent investigation into its problematic £17m IT modernisation programme. The corporation has opposed an application from Computer Weekly under the Freedom of Information Act to disclose the results of an investigation by Methods Consulting which could offer valuable lessons for other major IT projects...Computer Weekly is challenging these arguments, and calling for the Housing Corporation to publish at least a redacted version of the report's findings."

Hard-hit NHS trusts share £178m rescue package - Guardian
"More than 12 of the most financially troubled NHS hospital trusts in England will today share in a £178m rescue package being put together by Patricia Hewitt, the health secretary, to avoid bankruptcies across the health service. She will announce a change in NHS accounting rules to allow the bale-out...During a Guardian investigation in December, data provided under the Freedom of Information Act showed 103 hospital trusts across England were forecasting an accumulated deficit of £1.6bn by the end of the financial year, caused by overspending since 2001. At least a dozen hospitals had reached the point where financial recovery was impossible."

Government backtrack as FOI decision delayed - Guardian
"Government ministers are backtracking over plans to restrict the public's right to request official documents under the Freedom of Information Act, it emerged...The government announced today that the public will be given another three months to give their views on the proposals. There has already been one three-month consultation, which ended three weeks ago."

Govt plans to 'neuter'FoI kicked into long grass following PG campaign - Press Gazette
"The Government has effectively kicked plans to water down the Freedom of Information Act into the long grass. The Department of Constitutional Affairs this morning announced that it will hold an additional 12-week consultation period on its proposals to amend the Freedom of Information and Data Protection Regulations. Effectively the move means that plans that had been condemned as "neutering" FoI for journalists may now be left for a new Prime Minister to decide."

Costs for Diana inquests set to soar - Independent
"The cost to the public of the inquests into the deaths of Diana, Princess of Wales, and Dodi Fayed will eventually run into millions of pounds, the first bill for the inquiry shows. Legal fees, two coroners' wages and administrative costs reached £100,000 last year, months before Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss, the retired High Court judge, had been appointed to chair the joint inquiries, according figures released by the Government under the Freedom of Information Act."

Minister listen to Guardian campaign's call - Guardian
"Without political involvement, a campaign about government data hasn't got much chance. So it must count as important that we got an off-the-record meeting with the minister in charge of that data. Baroness Ashton (Catherine Ashton), of the Department for Constitutional Affairs (DCA), is responsible for policy on public sector information - the digital crown jewels which the Guardian's Free Our Data campaign says should be liberated. We made our case, and her questioning led us to make some deductions about present government thinking."

Good news for BBC on Balen report - Guardian
"The BBC scored a partial victory today in its high court battle to keep an internal report into its Middle East coverage under wraps. Mr Justice Davis said he would rule, probably after the Easter break, that the information tribunal - which held that a member of the public could have access to the report under freedom of information laws - had no jurisdiction to hear the case...The ruling is a blow for Mr Sugar, a London solicitor, who was refused access to the report on the basis that the BBC is covered by the Freedom of Information Act only "for purposes other than those of journalism, art or literature.""

Government ready for rethink over the public's right to know - The Times
"The Government has delayed introducing restrictions on the public’s right to know about the State, raising hopes among campaigners that it will abandon the idea. Baroness Ashton of Upholland, the Information Rights Minister, has announced a second consultation into plans to change the way in which the cost of freedom of information requests is calculated.The original consultation was restricted to issues directly concerning the Government’s proposals for amending the cost-calculation system. The new consultation paper widens the range so that people can make representations on whether there is any need to amend the calculation rules."

Universities 'filter out' middle class - The Times
"Some of Britain’s leading universities are secretly operating selection schemes that can discriminate against applicants from good state or independent schools. Internal documents show that six of the 20 elite Russell Group universities are identifying applicants from schools with poor exam results or from deprived areas based on their postcode. Admissions tutors are then advised to favour them over equally well-qualified candidates from better schools or backgrounds. The schemes, revealed under the Freedom of Information Act, will fuel criticism that universities are attempting to socially engineer their intakes."

No10 silent on Chequers guests - Sunday Times
Downing Street is refusing to reveal whether the businessmen at the centre of the cash for honours scandal were invited to private dinners last year at Chequers...No 10 has repeatedly delayed publication of the list of those receiving hospitality at Chequers in 2006, covering the period since the scandal became public. Norman Lamb, the Liberal Democrat MP who used freedom of information laws to force No 10 to release previous guest lists, was told last August that the information for 2006 would be released “at the end of the year”. Lamb is now being told that the information will be released in “due course”, sparking fears that it will be withheld until after Blair announces his resignation from office – widely expected to be in May."

Pensions timebomb - Brown defied advice - The Times
"Gordon Brown defied repeated warnings from his own officials about the potentially devastating impact of his £5 billion-a-year raid on pension funds...The release of the documents to The Times follows a two-year battle to obtain the information. The Treasury repeatedly refused to release it saying that the public interest in granting the request was outweighed by the risk that doing so would “prejudice ongoing full and frank disclosure to ministers.” The Information Commissioner ruled in favour of The Times last year but the Treasury decided to appeal. The Treasury withdrew its appeal yesterday afternoon."

Further coverage of the Treasury disclosure:

Brown's Pensions grab is revealed - Telegraph

Treasury rejects attack on Brown - BBC

Brown faces backlash over pensions battle - Observer


KCC halves bill for foreign travel - Kentish Gazette
Travel trips abroad by senior county councillors included visits to China, America and Hungary and cost the taxpayer more than £20,000 last year, the Kent Messenger Group can reveal. The details of more than 20 foreign visits made by senior county councillors were released to the newspaper group under the Freedom of Information Act...But the number of visits abroad fell by about a third compared with the previous year, with far fewer elected members travelling abroad on council business...The costs have also fallen significantly from about £50,000 that was spent in 2005."

NHS refutes paper claims - Borehamwood & Elstree Times
"The trust responsible for Springfield Hospital in Tooting has disputed a national newspaper report that four of its patients go missing "every five days". The newspaper report - based on information released following a Freedom of Information request - said dangerous criminals were among 248 people who escaped from the care of South West London and St George's Mental Health NHS Trust last year...Trust chief executive Peter Houghton said: "The report is highly misleading and inaccurate. It is not true that there were dozens' of escaped and missing patients and mass suspensions' of staff last year."

Public urged to help in cannabis fight - Evening Star
"Police in Suffolk seized more than 1,300 cannabis plants in a nine-month period between 2005 and 2006, new figures revealed today. Data released under the Freedom of Information Act shows that the force retrieved the drugs from about 25 addresses all over the county. Raids between August 2005 and May 2006 included the seizure of 459 plants from a terraced home in October 2005 and the seizure of 350 plants from a loft in December 2005 - both of these raids are thought to have taken place in Ipswich."

Council keeps £40k spending under wraps - Evening Post
"The Post has been dealt another blow in its 10-month battle to see a £40,000 report commissioned by Swansea Council on a building it doesn't own.The authority paid the cash for a feasibility study on the future of the Elysium Building in High Street. It carried it out even though it doesn't own the building. The Post requested a copy of the £40,000 document in May 2006 under the Freedom of Information Act but was turned down. A challenge was submitted against the ruling which took Swansea Council seven months to consider. It has now dismissed the Post's arguments that it should be revealed."

Hold off on law change - watchdog - The Journal
"Ministers should hold off controversial changes to freedom of information rules, new Northumbria University lecturer Richard Thomas warned yesterday. "I would prefer if there is a problem out there to use the existing provisions to deal with it and if they don't prove adequate, then we might need to look at this again," said Mr Thomas, who has been appointed as visiting professor of Northumbria University's school of law."

New information in bid to restore speed cushions - The Bath Chronicle
"Residents fighting to restore speed cushions on one of Bath's busiest rat runs have used the Freedom of Information Act to further their campaign. The Camden Residents' Association (CRA) says information it obtained from Bath and North East Somerset Council did not justify the decision to remove traffic-calming measures along Camden Road."


Call to scrutinise MSPs expenses - The Herald
"MSPs' expenses could be the subject of an independent public inquiry lasting two years or more, under proposals set out yesterday. The Corporate Body that runs Holyrood's business set out its report for the MSPs to be elected on May 3 with a warning of the complexity of revising the code for claiming allowances. The issue has dogged MSPs, particularly over the past two years, since the Freedom of Information Act allowed journalists to demand details of taxi journeys and office costs...The report of the Corporate Body, chaired by Mr [George] Reid, said the allowances scheme was unanimously backed in June 2001. But it questioned whether it has "sufficient public confidence, taking account of the fact that any scheme is susceptible to being reported in a critical manner".

No comments: