Wednesday, January 28, 2009

FOI disclosure stories 19-25 January 2009

Labour feared backlash over anti-Catholic reform - Sunday Times 25/1/09
"Donald Dewar, the former first minister, refused to endorse the repeal of the Act of Settlement for fear of alienating Ulster Unionists. Documents released under the Freedom of Information Act reveal that Dewar sympathised with calls to abolish the legislation but was not prepared to support it publicly... Under the act of 1701 no Catholic can inherit the crown and any member of the royal family who marries a Catholic is barred from succession unless his or her spouse agrees to renounce the faith... The newly-released documents highlight opposing views in Labour’s Scottish administration on how ministers should respond to SNP calls to repeal the act."

Tesco lobbies for right to cut pension payments - Observer 25/1/09
" Tesco has lobbied the government to push through reforms to the UK's retirement rules that would allow the supermarket to cut its final salary pension payouts if employees live longer than expected. Documents obtained under freedom of information rules reveal that the company told ministers that employers should be allowed more flexibility in administering their schemes in the light of rising retirement costs. The documents show for the first time that one of Britain's major employers is concerned that the rising costs of defined-benefit pensions will become an increasing burden under current rules. The revelation is expected to dismay unions at the supermarket, which is one of a dwindling band of employers offering guaranteed retirement benefits. "

Hundreds of BBC staff snaffle six-figure pay - Sunday Times 25/1/09
"The BBC was embroiled in a fresh row over executive pay last night after internal accounts revealed it is paying 339 managers more than £100,000 each. The figures, released under freedom of information (FOI) laws, reveal that the corporation’s top earners are being paid £44m in total... the figure of 339 does not include managers at the BBC’s commercial subsidiaries or members of the executive board, who are all exempt from the FOI disclosure... The new figures show that after the director-general Mark Thompson – who earns £817,000 with benefits – and his fellow executive directors, broad swathes of managers also enjoy high salaries."

PCTs take action over Choose and Book misuse - Pulse 23/1/09
"PCTs across the country have begun taking formal action over the misuse of Choose and Book, serving hospital trusts with performance notices to improve their operation of the system and stop them restricting slot availability. Information obtained by Pulse under the Freedom of Information Act reveals that seven trusts have now issued performance notices, as PCT bosses turn to contractual mechanisms in a bid to address persistent complaints... Pulse first revealed in December that East and North Hertfordshire PCT had brought a performance notice against East and North Hertfordshire NHS Trust ‘for the trust’s below-expected achievement on the Choose and Book target’."

Information Commissioner's ruling could open doors to claims from failed job candidates - Personnel Today 22/1/09
"Job candidates may be allowed to see other applicants' details, including interview notes, following a decision by the Information Commissioner (IC) against Leicester City Council. The IC ruled that a council employee, who had applied for two internal vacancies, had the right, under the Freedom of Information (FoI) Act, to see various details of other candidates as long as their identities were kept secret. The complainant had his request for information about the recruitment process and other candidates turned down by the council."

Just Another Brick In The Wall? Inside Out on trail of asbestos in our schools
- BBC 23/1/09
"More than 90% of South East England schools still contain asbestos, a special investigation by the BBC's Inside Out South East will reveal. Using the Freedom of Information Act, the team conducts the first survey of asbestos in South East schools. Of Kent's 599 schools, 554 contain asbestos; in East Sussex, 185 of the county's 195 schools carry the substance. In post-war Britain the majority of state schools were built using the substance, which only becomes a threat to health once it is exposed and starts to crumble. Every school affected should have its own asbestos management plan, and under current guidelines areas where it is exposed should be securely sealed."

Gov't agencies fall short on data accuracy - 22/1/09
"Most government departments lack basic data-protection and error-correction policies, responses to a series of Freedom of Information requests have revealed. Garlik, a UK company that helps people find which of their personal information exists online, sent out the FoI requests between September and November last year. The FoI requests asked 30 government departments four questions about their handling of citizens' personal data... The results, revealed on Thursday, were described by Garlik as showing a "dangerous complacency regarding the accuracy of databases containing the personal information of British citizens"... "The government's complacent attitude towards managing and correcting our personal data is all the more shocking in light of the 176 public data losses that have occurred this year alone," Garlik chief executive Tom Ilube said in the company's statement on Thursday."

Child abuse unit paying for data - BBC 21/1/09
"The unit set up to tackle child sex abuse in the UK has had to pay tens of thousand of pounds to internet firms for information, the BBC has learned. The Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP) has spent more than £170,000 since 2006. The money has gone to internet service providers (ISPs) which charge for their data. CEOP chief executive Jim Gamble said the situation was "ridiculous". The figure comes after a BBC request under the Freedom of Information Act... He [Gamble] added that for the money CEOP has had to pay ISPs, it could have employed two full-time investigators."

BBC outlines cash incentives for staff moving to Salford Press Association 19/1/09
"The BBC has released further details under the Freedom of Information Act of the relocation package available to journalists moving to Salford. BBC staff moving to the corporation's new base in the MediaCity on the outskirts of Manchester will be eligible for up to £3,000 to pay for new carpets and curtains. And BBC employees in London with houses to sell will also benefit from a guaranteed house purchase scheme, under relocation terms for those prepared to head north... It is one payment among a package of incentives, paid for out of the licence fee, to entice staff to move out of London."

NSPCC reveals 53 children are sexually abused every day - Guardian 19/1/09
"The scale of child abuse in England and Wales was revealed today when figures showed that 53 children a day are subjected to sex crimes. The victims range from babies and toddlers to teenagers and the offences from indecent exposure to rape and serious sexual attacks. But the statistics highlight just a small proportion of the total number of sex offences carried out against children because a third of child victims do not tell anyone that they have been abused, according to research. The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children collated the figures by issuing freedom of information requests to all 43 police forces in England and Wales. The figures show that 20,758 children reported sexual offences to the police last year, including rape, gross indecency and incest."


Kingston University may lose £1m thanks to drop outs - Surrey Comet 24/1/09
"Kingston University may forfeit £1m of funding, after failing to declare hundreds of students who failed to complete their courses - and the university warned other institutions may have even bigger problems. Last year the university reported a 6.4 per cent non-completion rate, but an audit of 180 of the university’s 21,300 students revealed a higher figure of 8.6 per cent. According to documents obtained by the Surrey Comet under the Freedom of Information Act, a later examination of 9,000 student records revealed that the true rate could be high as 14.5 per cent."

£15k spent on paupers' burials in Burnley - Lancashire Telegraph 23/1/09
"BURNLEY Council has spent more than £15,000 since 2004 on so-called ‘paupers’ burials’. The council is responsible for arranging cremations when no family, or friends, of the deceased can be traced. The figures were released under the Freedom of Information Act."

Sunderland Echo City's shock car smash toll - Sunderland Echo 23/1/09
"More than 2,000 people have been injured in car accidents on Wearside roads in just three years... Figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show there have been 9,514 accidents between 2005 and September 2008. And 2,264 of these incidents have resulted in minor or major injuries or death."

70 alcoholics claim disability benefit - Coventry Telegraph 22/1/09

"Seventy people in Nuneaton and Bedworth are claiming disability benefits because they are addicted to alcohol. The figures, uncovered following a Freedom of Information Act request, show the crippling extent of alcoholism in the borough. The group is claiming ­either incapacity benefit or ­severe disablement allowance, citing their main disability as alcoholism."

Guns and knives in city's schools - Salford Advertiser 22/1/09
"Children as young as 11 have been reported to the police for having knives on school premises, according to an investigation by the Salford Advertiser. Figures obtained exclusively by the Advertiser under Freedom of Information laws show that six weapons were found in Salford schools in the academic year 2007/2008. They include a knife, two BB guns and three starter pistols, which do not fire live rounds but look like real guns."

Two attacks a week on fire crews - Express & Star - Wolverhampton 22/1/09
"Yobs have attacked firefighters in the West Midlands almost 300 times in the past three years... Crews in the region have been pelted with glass bottles, stones and eggs as well as being spat at while giving out safety advice, bombarded with abuse while putting out fires and blocked in roads by cruel drivers while trying to rush to emergencies... The figures have been released to the Express & Star under the Freedom of Information Act. They reveal 95 incidents were reported in 2006, 119 in 2007 and 80 in 2008 – a total of 294. It means firefighters are being attacked on average around two times a week."

Ormskirk's top spots for parking fines exclusively revealed - Ormskirk & Skelmersdale Advertiser 22/1/09
"... statistics show that 19,808 tickets have been dished out in the top 10 parking ticket locations alone in the last five years. The figures, obtained using the freedom of information request, show that Two Saints car park tops the most ticketed 10 car parks in Ormskirk with almost 5,000 penalty charges notices (PCNs) issued in five years. Since Lancashire County Council’s parking enforcement arm ParkWise started patrolling car parks in the town in 2004 the tickets have been totting up."

Pensioner crime in Croydon on the rise - This is Croydon Today 22/1/09
"The number of pensioners being arrested in Croydon is rising while youth arrests are dropping... Figures released to this paper under the Freedom of Information Act shows the number of men aged over 65 and women aged over 60 arrested in the borough rose by 14 per cent in a single year... A total of 106 pensioners were nabbed by police in 2008, compared to just 90 in 2007... the greatest increase in arrests was among elderly women."

13 police officers have convictions - Rhyl Journal 21/1/09
"Thirteen police officers in North Wales have criminal convictions, it has been revealed.
In response to a Freedom of Information inquiry, North Wales Police have reported that six of the convictions occurred before the officers joined the regional force, the other seven since doing so. Three of the 13 are sergeants, whose convictions are for assault, common assault and possession of a controlled drug. The constables' offences range from speeding and owning a dangerous dog to being drunk and disorderly, forgery and a data protection offence."

26 North Wales police stations closed in 11 years - Daily Post 21/1/09
"North Wales Police has closed 26 police stations across the region in the past 11 years and shut an additional five front counters since 2004. Statistics released after a Freedom of Information enquiry show the force has made major cuts to its station network since 1997 – but also opened eight new premises in that time. A critic of the shutdown said the closures were making it harder for the public to report crime."

Agency worker paid £97 an hour by NHS - Derbyshire Evening Telegraph 21/1/09
"Agency staff brought in by the NHS in Derbyshire have cost up to £97 an hour. The figure, which would have been equivalent to an annual salary of £190,000, was revealed in answer to a Freedom of Information request by the Conservatives. Trusts running health services throughout the country revealed the highest amounts they paid for outside staff, including doctors, nurses and managers... Shadow Health Secretary Andrew Lansley said: 'It's incredible that agency staff can be paid such high hourly rates when jobs are being cut at the same time."

Health chiefs under fire for walk-in centre 'farce'
- Norfolk Evening News 24 20/1/09
"...the consultation process into the closure of the walk-in centre (WIC) in Dussindale was a “farce”. Correspondence obtained using a Freedom of Information request has revealed that NHS Norfolk may have made the decision to close the popular WIC in Pound Lane in February 2008 - prior to the £67,000 public consultation... More than 5,000 names were collected on a petition against the closure and letters were written to NHS Norfolk opposing the plans but in November last year health chiefs announced the WIC would close." North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb said this was a “horrifying waste of money”. He said: 'The chief executive has confirmed what we all knew all along - that the consultation process was a farce and it was merely a rubber stamping exercise."

Drugs, mobile phones smuggled into Winchester Prison - Southern Daily Echo 20/1/09
"Drugs, mobile phones and deadly weapons are being smuggled into a Hampshire prison. Almost 200 contraband items – including 43 mobile phones – were seized at Winchester Prison in 2007. Following a Freedom of Information Act request by the Daily Echo it is the first time confiscation figures have been released by the high security jail and sheds light on the extent of drug dealing behind bars. The revelation comes just one month after prison officer Luke Ryan was jailed for seven years for smuggling cocaine, heroin and cannabis into the jail."

Thousands of cases dropped - Ilkeston Advertiser 20/1/09
"Derbyshire Constabulary decided not to make enquiries into over 12,000 crimes this year – a 45 per cent rise in the number of reported crimes not investigated. Figures released under the Freedom of Information Act revealed police still “screened out” more incidents, despite the number of reported crimes dropping. Crimes are screened out when officers feel they are unlikely to be solved using available resources."

Compensation culture in Kirklees? £470k claims against schools - Huddersfield Daily Examiner 19/1/09
"Shock figures revealed today show just how much the compensation culture has taken over in Kirklees... Figures obtained from Kirklees Council under the Freedom of Information Act show the LEA had to defend claims totalling nearly £185,000 from December 2005 to December 2006. Some £245,000 was claimed in the following 12 months and almost £140,000 between December 2007 and 2008. Not all was paid out though. The highest claim was for £60,000, which was claimed by an employee who suffered a break or fracture caused by defective equipment on March 30, 2006 at Crow Lane Junior and Infants School in Milnsbridge. The council’s Cabinet member for schools Clr Jim Dodds is concerned that too many claims are being made. “There are more and more people jumping on the bandwagon and you can see that with the number of ads on the telly encouraging people to claim if they have had an accident.”

Nearly 100 council homes remain empty despite a huge waiting list - Gloucester Citizen 19/1/09
"Almost 100 council homes in Cheltenham are standing empty, despite more than 3,000 people waiting to be housed. Figures released to the Echo by Cheltenham Borough Homes under the Freedom of Information Act show 92 homes are unoccupied and have been for up to seven months. While there are 3,157 applicants on the waiting list for a council home."


Drug curse of Glasgow children - Glasgow Evening Times 23/1/09
"UP to 50 youngsters under 13 are taking heroin in Glasgow, a leading drugs worker revealed today. Professor Neil McKeganey, director of the Centre for Drug Misuse Research at Glasgow University said his studies indicated substantial numbers of children in the city were growing up in homes where drugs were available... new figures released to the Evening Times under Freedom of Information showed kids as young as 11 and 12 are ending up in hospital after overdosing on a variety of drugs. In the year 2007/2008 there were 173 hospital admissions for under 18s suffering from what medics class as self harm by drug overdose' across the NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde area. Two admissions last year involved 11-year-olds and four involved 12-year-olds."

£1850 a day: what the council gets in parking fines in Dundee - Dundee Evening Telegraph 22/1/09
"Dundee City Council is raking in £1850 a day from parking tickets slapped on the windscreens of cars across the city. Figures obtained by the Tele under Freedom of Information showed the authority’s parking enforcement officers issued 27,030 penalty notices during 2008, earning revenue of £678,990."

Council workers facing three attacks from public each day - Edinburgh Evening News 21/1/09
"Council workers in Edinburgh are facing up to three verbal or physical attacks from members of the public every day... The daily abuse includes being threatened with knives, spat on and shouted at. Figures released to the Evening News under freedom of information laws reveal there were 938 incidents of abuse reported in 2007-08 by council workers."

Police have DNA profiles for only one in 14 missing people - Daily Record, Scotland 20/1/09
"Scots police have DNA profiles for only seven per cent of long-term missing people... The Record has found, under freedom of information, that cops have genetic fingerprints for just 34 of the 460 individuals who have not been seen for more than two weeks. Chief executive Paul Tuohy [of the charity Missing People] said: "The procedures by which police forces match long-term missing people to unidentified bodies or body parts need urgent review and greater co-ordination across the UK."

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