Thursday, December 06, 2007

Media update

Some FOI stories from the last couple of weeks

A catalogue of safety concerns - The Guardian, 4/12/07
"The Nimrod, which dates from the 1960s, has attracted growing criticism of its safety over leaking fuel and failing equipment as it has aged. Graham Knight, the father of Sergeant Ben Knight who died in last year's crash over Afghanistan, claims that more than 78 fires and 355 "smoke and fumes" incidents have been recorded on the plane during the past 20 years. Using freedom of information legislation and a series of leaked emails, Knight said he discovered there had bee 2,496 safety incidents."

Howells of disbelief - Chris Ames, commentisfree, The Guardian 4/12/07
"This Thursday and Friday, the Information Tribunal is hearing the FCO's appeal against the Information Commissioner's ruling that it should release the secret first draft of the dossier by former FCO press secretary - and CIF favourite - John Williams. Bizarrely, I'm not involved, although the case relates to my original FOIA request, but I will be there. You might have thought the FCO's case was shot to pieces after Williams said here that he had no objection to the draft being released, but the government is desperate to suppress it and desperate to conceal the origins of the dossier."

Muscular dystrophy care 'lottery' - BBC, 4/12/07
"Some patients with neuromuscular diseases may die more than a decade too soon because specialist services are too far away, a report says. It found people with muscular dystrophy in north east England - close to a centre of excellence - live an average of 30 years after diagnosis. However, in the south west the average was just 18 years...The report includes a survey of primary care trusts in England conducted via Freedom of Information Act requests, which revealed that two out of three did not support a "muscle clinic" at local hospitals for patients."

Police misconduct costs forces £44m - The Times, 3/12/07
"Police forces have paid out more than £44 million in compensation and damages in the past five years, mostly to victims of alleged police misconduct, The Times has learnt. The bulk was paid out for wrongful arrests, assaults, malicious prosecutions and abuses of human rights, according to data obtained under the Freedom of Information Act (FoI). The figures show that between 2002 and 2007 the 55 police forces received more than 31,000 claims...The survey was conducted by Heather Brooke, an FoI expert and author of Your Right to Know."

See also - Heather Brooke:We need this data to catch and fix problems in the system

Row over secret £1m for city academy - The Sunday Times, 2 December 2007
"The government has accepted £1m from a secret donor to help to fund one of its flagship city academies, despite fears the cash is being used to buy influence...The funding agreement for Islington Green academy in north London is expected to be signed soon by Jim Knight, the schools minister. Details of the anonymous donor have emerged only because of an application under the Freedom of Information Act by Ken Muller, a local teacher...The documents released include e-mails between the government and City University. The e-mails say the money is coming from an “educational/religious/charity trust” well known to the giving money through City University, the official sponsor, the donor can stay anonymous."

MoD housing cash paying the rent - BBC 28/11/07
Forty per cent of the £5bn set aside to improve military housing will be spent on renting the buildings from a private landlord, the BBC has learned...In July, Defence Secretary Des Browne said the MoD planned to spend the £5bn on "upgrading and maintaining" accommodation. But the BBC freedom of information (FOI) request has revealed that property developer Annington Homes will receive almost £2bn of that sum. The Conservative government sold most of the defence housing stock to Annington in 1996 for £1.6bn."

Crowds are suffering for their art at the Tate Modern - The Times 26/11/07
"...the casualties have been mounting up at Tate Modern in London, where 15 people were hurt viewing Shibboleth 2007in the first four weeks after its opening. Beginning as a crack, Shibbolethwidens and deepens as it snakes across the gallery’s Turbine Hall, until in some places it is large enough for a toddler to fall into. Staff have been detailed to monitor visitors wandering around the hall, but a Freedom of Information request by The Times has revealed that their efforts have not been entirely successful. Four of the 15 accidents, some of which resulted in minor injuries, have been reported to the Health and Safety Executive."

Hospitals fail to screen new patients for MRSA - The Times, 22/11/07
"Only 2 per cent of hospitals are screening all patients for the superbug MRSA when they are admitted, despite government pledges that all would do it. The information, gathered by the Conservative Party through freedom of information (FoI) requests to hospital trusts, shows that the two basic principles that have been successful abroad in controlling MRSA are being ignored in Britain. Hospitals are neither screening patients, nor isolating them if they are found to be infected. The data, based on replies from 82 trusts, suggests that government guidelines are being ignored. Three years ago the Government said that trusts would “carry out screening for MRSA infection and colonisation”".

Too fat to work - The Times, 19/11/07
"Almost two thousand people who are too fat to work have been paid a total of £4.4 million in benefit, it emerged last night. Other payments went to fifty sufferers of acne and ten incapacitated by leprosy...The complete list of the 480 different illnesses and complaints for which people received incapacity benefit in February were released by the Department for Work and Pensions [under the Freedom of Information Act]. More than £2 billion was paid in 2006-07 for mental health complaints, including £518 million to those with what are described as “unknown and unspecified” diseases."

War zone civil servants cash in - Channel 4, 16 November 2007
"Desk-bound civil servants working in Iraq and Afghanistan are earning bonuses worth more than double the wages of front-line troops. Office staff are being awarded extra allowances of up to £35,000 a year to work in the conflict zones, dwarfing the £2,300 bonus soldiers receive for a six-month tour of duty. Injured soldiers' families and ex-military staff have reacted with anger over the extent of the allowance payments, unearthed via a Freedom of Information (FoI) request by Channel 4 News online. In one instance the disclosures reveal that just 29 foreign office (FCO) staff based in Basra shared a minimum of £928,588 in allowances last year, on top of their salaries. Ministry of defence (MoD) and department for international development (DFID) civil servants also pocketed hefty allowances for overseas stints, again on top of their regular wages."

Wind turbine and tidal power in £20m green plan for Westminster - The Guardian, 12/11/07
"A plan to slash the carbon footprint of the houses of parliament by almost a third using wind turbines, tidal power and underground boreholes is being considered by Palace of Westminster officials. A detailed study into the greening of the parliamentary estate, commissioned by MPs and peers shows how parliament could be partly powered by a 35m high wind turbine on the neighbouring Victoria Gardens and a field of tidal power turbines in the Thames next to the members' terraces. A borehole, dug 120m into London's chalk aquifer, is planned to provide pure drinking water and another, drilled into Black Rod's garden, would cool the air in the debating chambers instead of electricity hungry airconditioning units. There are also plans to spend millions fitting double glazing to draughty windows and installing minature power stations in the cellars which will take the palace partly "off-grid". According to the plans, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, the project will cost at least £20m."


Charity criticises nurse shortage - BBC 4/12/07
"The shortage of nurses working in Northern Ireland's special care baby units has been criticised by a charity for premature babies. Bliss has said units are being "stretched to breaking point" because there is a lack of nursing staff. According to the charity, no neo-natal unit in Northern Ireland complies with minimum nursing levels...Bliss published the new figures after receiving Freedom of Information request responses from six of the seven units in Northern Ireland. They claim that special care baby units are struggling with increasing demand and that the service needs an extra 100 neo-natal nurses."

Lotto bid 'could have saved monastry' - Herald Express 4/12/07
"Councillors are more interested in getting rid of the Monastery in Paignton than saving it for the community, it is being claimed. Ward councillor Ruth Pentney fears refusal to go for Lottery cash could seal the fate of the site in Berry Drive which could be sold for £250,000.An officers' report said if the Lottery bid was successful it would have meant the council would have to give a 40-year lease to the Friends of the Monastery, so stopping a sale. Mrs Pentney used the Freedom of Information Act to gain access to confidential documents which revealed the site had a good chance of attracting Lottery cash and 'is likely to disappear' without the money."

City's £10m tops publicity spend - 4/12/07
"Birmingham City Council spends £10m a year on publicity - more than 10 times the average of local authorities in the UK, according to a report. The Taxpayers' Alliance named the city as the biggest spender in 2006/7 based on data received from 470 councils after Freedom of Information requests. It said the £985,000 average publicity spend was 80% higher than a decade ago. Birmingham City Council said it was the largest UK council and was spending less per head than most others. The alliance compared councils' recent accounts with those of a decade ago. It found that eight councils spent more than £5m on publicity last year, 73 spent more than £2m and 141 councils spent more than £1m."

Fears over NHS patients' records - BBC West 29/11/07
"Patients' confidential medical records are regularly being accessed by people who have no right to them, research by the BBC has revealed. Figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act reveal that in the last year there have been several data security breaches in the West. Confidential medical records should only ever be seen by doctors and nurses who are working with the patient concerned, with the government spending some £13bn to digitise the medical records of every patient in Britain...But in the last year there have been incidents in Gloucester and Cheltenham where staff have shared passwords, giving unauthorised people access to confidential records. At Bath's Royal United Hospital the same type of breach took place while breaches of security also took place in Swindon and Bristol. The North Bristol NHS Trust has reported catching a member of staff looking at friends' records, although they were just issued with a warning."

Development bosses' £1.2m bill - Manchester Evening News 28/11/07
"North West development chiefs have been criticised for running up a £1.2m bill promoting the region - including more than £33,000 in travel expenses...MP Norman Baker called for a parliamentary investigation after obtaining the figures through the Freedom of Information Act. The North West Development Agency spent £4,645 on taxis for its chairman and chief executive last year, and £25,712 on their other travel costs...The figures also show that two staff at the South East agency spent £70,000 on taxis, while Yorkshire Forward agency spent £20,000 flying 15 staff to a four-day Bollywood film festival."

Fears over the age of our teachers - Norwich Evening News 27/11/07
"A third of the county's head teachers will be eligible for retirement within the next five years - prompting fears for the leadership of our schools. The new figures, exclusively obtained by the Evening News under the Freedom of Information Act, show more than a quarter of Norfolk's teachers are also over the age of 50, raising concerns it will become increasingly difficult to recruit good leaders. The impending crisis, caused by the retirement of the so-called 'baby boomers' born after the Second World War, is expected to hit the entire country."

Gaps in contracts may cost dentists - The Westmorland Gazette - 23/11/07
"Dentists in South Lakeland and Eden could face financial penalties because they have not delivered on their NHS contracts. Research carried out under the Freedom of Information Act, a year after the controversial new General Dental Service Contracts were introduced, has found almost 71 per cent of the county's dental surgeons are missing their targets. And according to private dental plan administrator DPAS, which compiled the figures, the number of dentists under-delivering by more than 25 per cent is almost double the national average. Now Cumbria Primary Care Trust, which commissions dental services, is considering clawing-back some of the money it paid out to practices which have not completed sufficient work."

Majority of FoI requests are from the general public - Belfast Telegraph 22/11/07
"Two members of the public have asked for all correspondence from the First Ministers' Office to Catholic Primate Sean Brady over his elevation to Cardinal, it can be revealed. And an academic wants to obtain Department of Health details on the number of abortions conducted in the province in 2005 and 2006. The details are contained in a private internal report for Ministers, seen by the Belfast Telegraph, on the operation of the Freedom of Information (FoI) system. The report reveals that in October the bulk of FoI requests came from the public - 61 % - and the single department which continues to receive most inquiries is the Department of Environment. While confirming the media continues to make significant numbers of FoI applications - around 18 % - the report shows the mechanism is also being used by business (7.3 % last month), solicitors (5%) and pressure groups, as well as elected representatives."

See also - Ford attacks Paisley over information rights remark

£8m setback for Kingston commuters - Kingston Guardian 9/11/07
"Season tickets from Kingston and Surbiton are set to rise by £400 a year by 2010, according to information released to Edward Davey MP. A Freedom of Information request made by Mr Davey released the franchise agreement between South West Trains and the Government. Mr Davey said the agreement details fare hikes for season tickets which could cost Kingston's 19,000 commuters a total of £8million a year."


A question of trust - The Herald
"Ten years after the death of their son, the parents of a young man found dead in Wick Harbour in 1997 are to receive an unreserved apology from the chief constable of Northern Constabulary for the way he and his force handled their complaints about the police investigation into his death. In the intervening years, Hugh and June McLeod's distress has been compounded by the way the police have handled a series of complaints from the family. When the first Police Complaints Commissioner for Scotland (PCCS), Jim Martin, took up his post in April this year, their complaint was one of the first to land on his desk. He has now issued his report, which is deeply critical of Northern Constabulary and its chief constable, Ian Latimer...One of the significant factors in this case is that Mr Martin says that if the family had not used the Freedom of Information Act to gain access to a report by the chief constable of Central Scotland Police into how Northern Constabulary had handled their complaints, the extent of their shortcomings would not have come to light."

Motorists still using mobiles - Scotland on Sunday 2/12/07
"Nearly 10,000 fines have been handed out to drivers using mobile phones since new laws came in this year. A total of 9,574 fixed penalty notices were given out by five of Scotland's police forces between February and the end of October. That equates to more than 1,000 people a month being penalised with a £60 fine and three points on their driving licence. The figures have been released as police warn that too many drivers are continuing to use their phones while in their vehicles...The country's largest force, Strathclyde, handed out 5,043 fines to people caught using hand-held phones between February and October. Lothian and Borders gave out 2,052, Tayside 1,056, Central Scotland Police 1,037 and Fife 386. The figures were obtained under a Freedom of Information request. Data from the other forces is not yet available."

Edinburgh tram project chief offered six figure bonus - Transport Briefing 30/11/07
"The man charged with delivering Edinburgh's half a billion pound tram system will receive a bonus of up to £340,000 if the project is completed on time and to budget. According to documents released under the Freedom of Information Act, Transport Initiatives Edinburgh (TIE) chairman and chief executive Willie Gallagher has also seen his salary increase from £100,000 to £170,000. The documents show that his bonus was raised from 30% to 50% a year. Gallagher, a former Scottish Power director, renegotiated his contract with Edinburgh City Council in August, 14 months after he joined TIE, the council's arms length transport delivery company and tram client. "

Deadly bug cases soar by 70% in North-East - 19/11/07
"The number of people diagnosed with the potentially deadly bug Clostridium Difficile at north-east hospitals has risen by 70% in the last three years. Figures obtained by the Press and Journal using the Freedom of Information Act show there have been 513 cases across the NHS Grampian area so far this year, compared with 300 in 2004. The number of C Diff cases has also increased in Tayside, where there has been a 60% increase from 284 cases in 2004 to 457 during the first nine months of 2007. NHS Highland recorded 120 cases in 2006 compared to 50 in 2005 - a 140% rise. The bug was an underlying or contributing cause of death for five patients in the Highlands in 2006."

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