Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Media update

Secrets of Blair briefing on NPfIT to be surrendered - Computer Weekly 4/2/08
"The government is taking the unprecedented step of releasing papers on how policy decisions were taken at Downing Street before the launch of the NHS systems modernisation project - the world's largest civil IT-based scheme...In 2005, days after the Freedom of Information Act came into force, Computer Weekly formally applied for details of an IT seminar held at Downing Street in February 2002, chaired by the then prime minister, Tony Blair. Decisions at the seminar led to the launch of what became the £12.4bn National Programme for IT in the NHS. The government formally rejected Computer Weekly's request three times. The case was due to come before the Information Tribunal on 11 February, but last week the government's lawyers unexpectedly withdrew from the appeal. The Cabinet Office will now release the information."

Brown refuses to reveal contacts with Murdoch - Independent 4/2/08
"Gordon Brown has been accused of hypocrisy after refusing to reveal his contacts with the media magnate Rupert Murdoch, despite promising a more open approach to freedom of information... Mr Brown released details of Mr Blair's contacts with Mr Murdoch only days after becoming Prime Minister last June. But he is remaining coy about his own discussions with him. A Freedom of Information (FOI) request from The Independent asked for "details of any meetings" between Mr Murdoch and the Prime Minister. Nicholas Howard, a Downing Street official, replied to say that "we do not hold any minutes of any meetings or other interactions" between the two men. It has emerged that the two men met at Chequers, the Prime Minister's country residence, on the weekend of 6-7 October, when Mr Brown decided not to call a November election."

NHS hospitals pay more than £120 an hour for agency nurses* - Times 4/2/08
"NHS hospitals have paid more than £120 an hour for agency workers to fill staffing gaps during the past year, according to figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act...The Conservatives asked NHS trusts to reveal the top hourly rates that each had paid for agency staff during the previous 12 months. The highest figures also included £121.10 an hour for a nurse at Chesterfield and Royal Hospital NHS Trust and £111.96 for a nurse at Salisbury NHS Foundation Trust. The highest hourly rate for a non-clinical worker was £119 for a turnaround director at Coventry Teaching Primary Care Trust, followed by £110 for financial staff at Heatherwood and Wrexham Park Hospitals NHS Trust and £106.66 for a director of healthcare and procurement at Havering PCT."

* See also 'NHS £120 -an-hour report unfounded' BBC 4/2/08
"A hospital trust that was reported to have paid over £120 an hour for agency workers to cover for gaps in staffing has said it provided incorrect figures. The true amount paid to agency staff by Royal Berkshire trust was £20.23 an hour, not the reported £121.59"

How the law lost £600,000 in kit including... - Telegraph 4/2/08
"A sniffer dog snatched from under the noses of its handlers is among thousands of items of police equipment that has been lost or stolen. Worth well over £700,000, the kit includes three dogs, 27 motor vehicles, 50 computers, 104 radio handsets, 149 satellite navigation systems and 189 mobile phones. Other missing items include 109 batons, 187 pairs of handcuffs, 113 torches and 141 police caps and helmets. The list, gained under the Freedom of Information Act, prompted charges of carelessness, but police insisted every case had been investigated."

Taking the mick - Scotland on Sunday 3/2/08
"It was never going to be a meeting of minds, but after years of wrangling, Heather Brooke believes that she is about to celebrate a famous victory over Michael Martin, the Speaker of the House of Commons...Martin, as Speaker, is the man Brooke blames for blocking this and many other requests for information about how MPs spend public money...This week, the battle comes to a head: an Information Tribunal will decide whether the House of Commons' authorities should be forced to provide details of how MPs spend an annual allowance of up to £22,110 for living away from their main home."

Ministers accused of conniving with Eon - FT 1/2/08
"Ministers were on Thursday night accused of conniving with the energy industry, after e-mails revealed a supplier appearing to dictate the terms on which it expected the government to approve a controversial coal-fired power station. The e-mail trail, obtained by Greenpeace, the environmental pressure group, using the Freedom of Information Act is politically embarrassing for John Hutton, the business secretary."

Government blocks access to secret military papers on Diego Garcia - Independent 1/2/08
"MPs and human rights group have accused ministers of a cover-up over government knowledge of rendition flights and the use of British military bases to hold suspects after the United States launched its war on terror more than six years ago. Now ministers have blocked an attempt by an influential parliamentary committee to secure the release of secret military papers which they believe will reveal whether the British island territory of Diego Garcia was used as a detention centre for rendition prisoners. MPs from the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Extraordinary Rendition used powers under the Freedom of Information Act to request minutes of US/UK political military talks held in a Washington in September last year. But the Government has refused to release the papers claiming that to do so "would prejudice the defence" of territory by "exposing plans to counter possible terrorist attacks". They also say it could damage diplomatic relations between Britain and America."

How MSPs are made to account for every penny - Independent 31/1/08
"Members of the Scottish Parliament publish details of their expenses down to the last bus ticket. Freedom of information laws have meant that all claims by MSPs, no matter how small, have been published since 2006. Whereas Westminster MPs can claim up to £250 without a receipt, their counterparts at Holyrood must provide bills for every penny they claim. The former Scottish Tory leader David McLetchie stood down after wrongly claiming taxi fares. Only claims for travelling by car are exempt from the rules, which allow voters to scrutinise their elected representatives' expenses in minute detail."

Labour is accused of doing a u-turn over mixed sex wards - Western Daily Press 30/1/08
"Patients are being let down by a government U-turn on mixed-sex wards in hospitals, the Tories claimed last night. They said Health Minister Lord Darzi had reneged on Labour's 1997 manifesto promise to "work towards the elimination of mixed-sex wards". Shadow Health Secretary Andrew Lansley said the Conservatives had requested information on mixed-sex wards under the Freedom of Information Act and 44 per cent of acute and mental health trusts had responded. The Tories named 35 NHS trusts that still have fully mixed wards, including Dorset County Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, Weston Area Health NHS Trust, Gloucestershire Partnership NHS Foundation Trust and the Royal Bournemouth and Christchurch Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust."


Licensed for a gun - at 10 - 1/2/08
"Children as young as 10 have been issued with shotgun licences by Dorset Police.
More than 100 licences for guns have been issued to young people under 18 in the last two years. These include shotgun licences to a 10-year-old, an 11-year-old, two 12-year-olds and six 13-year-olds. Licences for rifles have been issued to two 15-year-olds, two 16-year-olds and ten 17-year-olds. In total over the last three years 89 licences for shotguns and 14 firearm licences for rifles have been issued to people under the voting age. The Daily Echo obtained these figures under the Freedom of Information Act but the police refused to say where in the county the licences were issued."

50p - how little goes into each meal for hospital patients - 30/1/08
"Patients staying at hospitals in Bristol are being fed using ingredients costing as little as 50p per meal, the Evening Post has learned. Figures for the last financial year obtained using the Freedom of Information Act show the average cost of ingredients for two- course meals at Frenchay and Southmead hospitals was 50p. School meals in Bristol during the same period were prepared on a budget of 80p each.And even prisoners have at least 60p spent on each meal. When energy and staff costs are added, hospital trusts in the area pay an average of £1.56 to £2.07 per meal."

Rats firms supplied 150 sites - 29/1/08
"A Rat-infested warehouse supplied food to children and the elderly at more than 150 establishments across Carmarthenshire, it has been revealed.The county council was forced to release a list of schools, care homes and leisure facilities supplied by Pembrokeshire-based Skelfayre after a Post reporter requested details under the Freedom of Information Act. Health inspectors found dead rats, maggots and rat faeces in or among the company's supplies last year. Earlier this month, its directors appeared in court to face food hygiene charges."

Foreign arrests soar - Your Local Guardian
"The number of foreign nationals being arrested by the Met Police has risen by more than 60 per cent in four years, according to figures released under Freedom of Information laws. According to the figures, 34,956 non-UK residents were arrested by the Met in the first nine months of last year. That's a 63 per cent rise on the 21,398 arrested in 2003. The Met came fifth in the table of growth in foreign arrests numbers for forces across England and Wales. According to the figures released to Channel 4, the greatest rise was in Warwickshire, where arrests rose by more than 2,000 per cent from 21 in 2003 to 447 in 2007."


Old navy loos halt the new Forth crossing - Sunday Herald
"The Government's controversial £4 billion plan to build another road bridge across the Firth of Forth is about to run into an unexpected hitch: a historic toilet. A first world war latrine at Port Edgar in South Queensferry, along with a cell block, an air-raid shelter and naval barracks, have all been put under legal protection by the government's guardian of ancient monuments, Historic Scotland. But the buildings are directly in the way of the proposed new bridge. The Sunday Herald can also reveal that another government agency, Transport Scotland, secretly tried to prevent the buildings from being protected to clear the path for the new bridge - a move that has been attacked as "inappropriate meddling" by environmentalists."

Spin doctors 'muzzled' green watchdog - Sunday Herald
"Scotland's green watchdog held back an attack on polluting farmers after it consulted government spin doctors. According to internal documents obtained by the Sunday Herald, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) completely rewrote a draft news release after circulating it to ministerial media officials. One accusation - that farmers' leaders were being "misleading" - was left out in favour of comments about the key role of agriculture in protecting the environment...Emails disclosing communications with the former Scottish Executive were released by Sepa last week after an investigation by the information commissioner, Kevin Dunion. The Sunday Herald requested the documents under Freedom of Information laws in August 2006."

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