Friday, May 11, 2007

Regional round-up

Report on grammar school ballots kept under wraps - Kent Messenger
"The Government is refusing to release a report examining if rules should be changed to make it easier for parents to vote on whether to abolish grammar schools in Kent. The independent report was commissioned and completed more than a year ago. But the Kent Messenger Group can reveal its findings have yet to be shared with either ministers or even with the MPs who asked for it. Now the Department for Education and Skills has rejected a request made by the Kent Messenger Group under the Freedom of Information Act to publish the full report...In a statement, the DfES said the report had concluded that it was "not alternative fair system of deciding eligibility to vote could be devised." But it rejected the KM Group's request for a copy of the full report, arguing that it was part of "an on-going process of policy discussion" despite the fact ministers have yet to be presented with its conclusions."

Public are not at risk, say ambulance bosses - Leicester Mercury
"Ambulance bosses today hit back at claims lives are at risk because highly trained paramedics are not being used for emergency 999 calls. Statistics released through the Freedom of Information Act reveal that fewer than half of first responses by the East Midlands Ambulance Service (EMAS) have a paramedic on board...Today, East Midlands Ambulance Service bosses admitted technicians were used in responding to emergency calls, but said: "This is a misuse of statistics and the public should not be alarmed." A spokesman said "It is not about how many more paramedics compared to technicians we have at any given time. "Life-threatening situations always receive top priority from the service.""

Talking to a brick wall - The Northern Echo
"The Home Office says it is not in the public interest to reveal how more than £500,000 of public money was handed over to an inmate at a North Yorkshire prison. The Northern Echo disagrees...The furore surrounding the £575,000 compensation payment to an inmate at Northallerton Young Offenders Institution is unlikely to go away. The Home Office's rejection of The Northern Echo's request under the Freedom of Information Act (FoIA) for details of the payment is more likely to fuel the controversy than quell it."

Poor hygiene ratings - Formby Times
"None of Formby's cafes and restaurants achieved top marks for food hygiene at their last inspection. Three well known eateries scored the minimum 'zero stars' - prompting action from the council's food safety team. A new website, devised as part of local authorities' obligations under the Freedom of Information Act, allows discerning diners to check a venue's cleanliness at the click of a button...Topping the overall scoreboard for L37 are the Maryland Residential Home and Snack In a Box catering vehicle, each boasting the maximum five stars."

Hospitals' taxi bill totals £18,000 - Lincolnshire Echo
"Hospitals spent more than £18,000 on taxi fares to transport staff around the country last year, new figures show...The information has been released to the Echo after we made a Freedom of Information request...In its response, the United Lincolnshire Hospitals NHS Trust, which runs hospitals in Lincoln, Boston, Louth and Grantham, said it spent £18,817 on taxis to transport staff between April 2006 and March 2007. The letter said: "The majority of this is the movement of medical staff between sites to provide a service or the return of doctors or nurses when they have accompanied a patient on transfer." This comes as the trust ended the financial year with debts of £13.8m".

Quarterly mags cost us £290,000 - Bucks Free Press
"A father of two has revealed Buckinghamshire County Council spends almost £290,000 on its quarterly magazine...Under his [FOI] request, the council (BCC) revealed it spends £286,800 distributing and producing 956,000 copies of the magazine each year. Despite this he feels he has not been given a true figure because BCC did not say how much went on staff wages...Frank Downes, cabinet member for resources at BCC, said: "What we are doing is trying to increase our advertising and revenue and trying to offset some of the costs your man has identified and we seem to be doing quite well at that." He added the magazine's last issue had produced £30,000 in revenue."

Official told of housing 'fraud' - Nottingham Evening Post
"A Briefing note written for one of the country's most senior civil servants said there has been "fraudulent practice" in the allocation of council houses in Nottingham. It is the first time a specific reference to fraud has emerged in public. The stark mention of corruption in the city's housing service is included in documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act. The note was written by officials at the Department for Communities and Local Government for the Permanent Secretary, Peter Housden. The briefing was provided following a meeting between representatives of Nottingham City Council, Nottingham City Homes (NCH) and DCLG in October last year. The meeting was held to discuss the funding crisis in Nottingham with respect to bringing council houses up to the Government's Decent Homes Standard. The city council is £143m short of the funds it needs."

Just five out of 627 plans rejected by councillors - Aldershot News and Mail
"Strict government guidelines led Rushmoor borough councillors to reject just five of 627 planning applications processed last year. Development control committee chairman Nigel Baines said it was obliged to give planning permission for several large developments to satisfy government housing policy. His comments came in response to figures obtained by the News under the Freedom of Information Act showing the workload of the council as a planning authority. The figures show that between April 2006 and March 2007 the council dealt with 627 applications. Councillors rejected the recommendations of planning officers five times. Only once was this decision overturned on appeal."

Authority contests call to release LNG risk papers - Milford and West Wales Mercury
"An appeal has been launched against a decision that Milford Haven Port Authority must release sensitive LNG risk assessment information. The port authority (MHPA) has decided to challenge the information commissioner's decision that it was wrong to refuse the release of environmental documents requested under the Freedom of Information Act...MHPA chief executive Ted Sangster said he feared the release of the documents - requested by Richard Buxton -could have a prejudicial impact on on-going proceedings. He added: "We recognise that members of the public have a right to be appraised of the implications, including safety implications of developments potentially impacting on them." But, Mr Sangster said, that did not necessarily extend to "large quantities of detailed analysis, much of which is underpinning the effective management of LNG shipping in the haven".

MP's demand for names falls on deaf ears - Banbury Cake
"NHS managers are remaining tight-lipped over who is deciding the future of Banbury's Horton Hospital. New, updated proposals on the Horton's services will be announced in July - but the Oxford Radcliffe Hospitals Trust is refusing to release the names of the working parties drawing up the plans, despite a Freedom of Information request for their publication. Banbury MP Tony Baldry demanded the names in March under the Freedom of Information procedure, after a request from the Save the Horton action group had been refused. The MP's latest demand comes after he asked questions in the House of Commons, and was told by Leader of the House Jack Straw that there was no good reason for the trust to withhold the names...On the non-disclosure of names, Ms Peggs [spokeswoman for the ORT Trust] said: "When the clinical working groups were set up, it was agreed that they could carry out their work in confidence and without their names being put into the public domain."...The agreement is that names and job roles will be published (if individuals give permission) when the working groups have finished their considerations."

Police hunting 100 fugitives - Edgeware Times
"Almost a thousand criminals were being hunted by Wandsworth police in the last year, after they jumped bail and disappeared, new figures have revealed. But while the majority had been caught or had their charges dropped, 102 remained at large, according to the figures, which were released under the Freedom of Information Act for the period January 2005 to December 2006. Of the 102, almost 10 per cent had been charged with violent crimes and another 10 per cent were charged with crimes relating to burglary, criminal damage or drugs...Wandsworth Police spokesman Paul O'Herlihy said thousands of suspected criminals were put through the borough's law system each year. He said no one deemed to pose a risk to the public or likely to commit further crimes was granted bail. "We would not give bail if we thought there was a public safety risk.""

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