Friday, February 27, 2009

Lib Dems propose scrapping ministerial veto

The Liberal Democrats have launched a draft Freedom Bill detailing the party's plans to restore civil liberties:
Our first draft of the Freedom Bill contains twenty measures to restore the fundamental rights that have been stripped away in recent years. We would:
  • Scrap ID cards for everyone, including foreign nationals.
  • Ensure that there are no restrictions in the right to trial by jury for serious offences including fraud.
  • Restore the right to protest in Parliament Square, at the heart of our democracy.
  • Abolish the flawed control orders regime.
  • Renegotiate the unfair extradition treaty with the United States.
  • Restore the right to public assembly for more than two people.
  • Scrap the ContactPoint database of all children in Britain.
  • Strengthen freedom of information by giving greater powers to the Information Commissioner and reducing exemptions.
  • Stop criminalising trespass.
  • Restore the public interest defence for whistleblowers.
  • Prevent allegations of ‘bad character’ from being used in court.
  • Restore the right to silence when accused in court.
  • Prevent bailiffs from using force.
  • Restrict the use of surveillance powers to the investigation of serious crimes and stop councils snooping.
  • Restore the principle of double jeopardy in UK law.
  • Remove innocent people from the DNA database.
  • Reduce the maximum period of pre-charge detention to 14 days.
  • Scrap the ministerial veto which allowed the Government to block the release of Cabinet minutes relating to the Iraq war.
  • Require explicit parental consent for biometric information to be taken from children.
  • Regulate CCTV following a Royal Commission on cameras.
The explanatory note on the Bill's FOI provisions states:
The Liberal Democrats would bring the rest of the UK in line with Scotland, where exemptions have to pass a higher test of ‘substantial harm’ to public interests, rather than ‘prejudice to’. The current situation allows those who hoard our personal data far too much room for manoeuvre. Public access to information should be as free as possible and requests should only be refused if the release of information into the public domain will cause significant harm to society. The idea of substantial harm featured in the original White Paper preceding the 2000 Act but was eventually watered down. The Liberal Democrats would put an end to such watering down of access to information.
The only exemptions the Bill amends as it stands however are those in section 36 of the Act for prejudice to the effective conduct of public affairs. As well as repealing the ministerial veto, the Bill would amend section 59 of the Act so that there would be no further right of appeal from the Information Tribunal.

The Freedom Bill website states that the Bill is intended to be a consultative document. You can add your views and sign a petition.

See
The Freedom Bill website

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Government issues first veto under the FOI Act

The government has vetoed the release of the cabinet minutes leading up to the Iraq war in 2003. Jack Straw, the Justice Secretary today (24 Feb) issued the first certificate under section 53 of the FOI Act overruling the Information Tribunal's decision of 27 January 2008 that the balance of public interest favoured releasing the minutes. The Tribunal's decision upheld an earlier ruling by the Information Commissioner.

In an oral statement in the House of Commons, the Justice Secretary said:
Mr Speaker, to permit the Commissioner’s and Tribunal’s view of the public interest to prevail would in my judgement risk serious damage to Cabinet government; an essential principle of British Parliamentary democracy. That eventuality is not in the public interest.
In response, the Information Commissioner, Richard Thomas, said:
My decision to order disclosure of the Cabinet minutes was made under the Freedom of Information Act on public interest grounds. It was upheld by the Information Tribunal. It was made clear by the Tribunal and by me that this was an exceptional case.

The government has chosen not to appeal the Tribunal's decision to the High Court, but instead has exercised its right of veto under the FOI Act. However, it is vital that this is also an exceptional response. Anything other than exceptional use of the veto would threaten to undermine much of the progress towards greater openness and transparency in government since the FOI Act came into force.
The Campaign for Freedom of Information said the decision was "an extremely retrograde step". It said the government should have abided by the Information Tribunal’s decision on the release of the cabinet minutes - or appealed against it, but not overruled it. The Campaign’s director Maurice Frankel said the Campaign “was concerned that having been used once, the veto might now be used in other cases involving the examination of policy at lower levels in government.”

The Campaign also expressed serious concern at the statement of Jack Straw that the government was actively considering widening some of the Freedom of Information Act’s exemptions, to make it easier to withhold official information.

The recent review of the 30 year rule, by a committee chaired by Paul Dacre of the Daily Mail, recommended that government records be released after 15 years instead of 30 years. However, the Dacre report also suggested that the government should consider amending the FOI Act’s exemptions to provide ‘enhanced protection’ for sensitive information.

See:
Statement of Reasons by Jack Straw, Justice Secretary
Oral Statement in the House of Commons
Section 53 Certificate
ICO statement on key Cabinet minutes veto
Full CFOI press release

Monday, February 23, 2009

ICO calls for senior salary scales to be published

Press release
23 Feb 2009
Senior public officials’ salary bands should be publicly available as a matter of routine, according to new Guidance published today by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).

The Guidance, When should salaries be disclosed?, explains that salary details, bonuses and performance related pay should be in the public domain to the nearest £5,000 band when there is a legitimate public interest. Disclosing exact salaries will only be required in exceptional circumstances.

Gerrard Tracey, Assistant Information Commissioner, said: “Those who are paid from the public purse should expect information on their salaries to be made public. There is a legitimate public interest in knowing how public money is spent, how public sector salaries compare with those in other areas, and how money is distributed between different levels of staff. Organisations can best meet these interests by routinely disclosing senior salary scales as an integral part of their publication schemes.”

The guidance also includes information to help authorities decide whether exact salaries should be disclosed and notes that authorities need to consider that allegations of corruption or mismanagement, or situations in which senior staff set their own pay, will mean that disclosure is more likely. More senior staff, responsible for major policy and financial initiatives, can expect greater scrutiny of their pay than more junior employees. The Guidance notes that it will nearly always be unfair to disclose junior employees’ exact salaries.

See ICO guidance When should salaries be disclosed?

FOI disclosure stories 16-22 February 2009

Bank of England grandees see the world at taxpayers' expense - The Daily Telegraph 21/2/09
“As companies in the private sector cut back sharply on the travelling expenses of even their most senior executives as the recession bites, grandees at the Bank of England have still been seeing a great deal of the world at considerable expense to the taxpayer. Charlie Bean, Gordon Brown's old pal who declared the other day that the world was in the midst of ‘possibly the largest financial crisis of its kind in human history,’ has spent more than £19,410 on foreign travel since becoming deputy governor last July. He commands a salary of £181,561. Figures obtained under the Freedom of Information legislation show that Bean is not the only one to have been travelling quite a bit lately. Betweem them, Mervyn King, who, as governor, earns £290,653 and Sir John Grieve, the joint deputy governor on £240,330, together with Rachel Lomax and Sir Andrew Large, who have since stepped down as deputies, ran up a bill for overseas travel of £177,294 over the past three years.”

When did your cash go to Iceland?
- Channel 4 20/2/09
“Huge differences in when councils risked putting cash into doomed Icelandic banks have been unearthed by Channel 4 News online. While some authorities stopped putting taxpayers' money into the high-interest accounts months or years before the Icelandic banks collapsed, some were still depositing cash in October last year, the month the institutions fell, our survey reveals. The details, obtained via Freedom of Information requests to all 104 councils with money in Icelandic banks, emerge as one expert warns that the chances of local authorities recouping a significant amount of their £900m frozen in the failed banks is becoming ‘less and less likely’.”

A&E Abuse Checks 'Not Routine' After Baby P
- Sky News 29/2/09
“Most Accident and Emergency departments do not routinely check if a child is known to be at risk of abuse or neglect, the Conservatives have said. The party obtained data under the Freedom of Information Act to find out how many checked if a youngster was subject to a child protection plan. Two-thirds of 104 hospital trusts questioned said they do not routinely check records to see if a child is already known to be at risk… But the Government said the figures were 'meaningless' as there was no national requirement to check every child coming into A&E.”

Reportedly missing - Jane's Security News 19/2/09
“Last year, UK police forces received more than 220,000 missing person reports. This cost the police service nearly £20 million and, with officers investigating their disappearances, deprived communities of police time that could have been spent tackling crime and disorder. Police Review sent all forces in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland a request under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 for details of missing person reports, including how many each force received for the 2007/08 financial year. The 47 that responded received 225,156 reports.”

Drug abuse hampers Afghan police – BBC 18/2/09
“Sixty per cent of the Afghan police in the country's southern province of Helmand use drugs, it is claimed. The estimate, made by a UK official working in the province, was contained in emails obtained by the BBC. International forces are fighting a fierce counter-insurgency campaign against Taleban militants and other insurgents in Helmand. ‘We are very concerned by the levels of drug abuse among the police,’ the British Foreign Office said in a statement. ‘The police are poorly paid, do high risk work and are poorly trained. There are high levels of corruption in the police as well as drug use and supporting counter-narcotics is a key priority for the UK,’ it said."

WHO safe surgery checklists are not being followed by NHS trusts
- Nursing Times 17/2/09
“A quarter of NHS acute trusts have not introduced a new set of pre-operative checks that give greater responsibility to theatre nurses and operating assistants six months after they were launched, a Nursing Times investigation has revealed. Nursing Times conducted a Freedom of Information request of all trusts in England to find out whether they observed new one-page, safety checklist published in June 2008 by the World Health Organization. The checklist particularly recognises the contribution of each member of the surgical team, calling for more junior members of staff such as nurses and operating department practitioners to question surgeons' decisions if necessary.”

Regional

'Surprise' at job centre assaults - BBCi 22/2/09
“Jobcentre Plus workers in Wales have suffered almost 2,400 physical or verbal assaults over the past three years, new figures reveal. Plaid Cymru AM Chris Franks, who requested the information under the Freedom of Information Act, said it was a "surprising level" of abuse. Incidents included verbal threats, aggressive behaviour, spitting and throwing items around the office. He also fears staff may face increased abuse as unemployment rises further.”

Westfield crime figures released
- Ealing Gazette 20/2/09
“Police were called to the Westfield shopping centre 386 times within the first three months of opening… The majority of the figures, obtained by the Freedom of Information Act, are for theft, which make up 276 of the figure - about 76 per cent of all the crimes at the mall in White City.”

2,400 litter louts are caught in crackdown - Peterborough Evening Telegraph 20/2/09
“More than 2,400 litter louts have been fined on the spot for dropping rubbish in Peterborough as part of a zero-tolerance crackdown to keep the streets clean which has earned Peterborough City Council almost £80,000 this year. Peterborough's eagle-eyed ‘green police’ patrol the streets seven days a week, handing out on-the-spot £75 fines to anyone caught casually dropping sweet papers, fast food wrappers and even cigarette ends."

Countess of Chester Hospital shells out millions in compensation to patients
- Flintshire Chronicle 20/2/09
“The Countess of Chester Hospital has revealed two patients each received more than £1m as compensation for clinical negligence in the last three years. Details released under the Freedom of Information Act show the hospital shelled out £1.9m to someone who received obstetric care in 2007 relating to an incident in 1995. And in 2006 a patient undergoing paediatric care received £1.3m, also relating to an incident in 1995… The figures were unveiled as the government admitted NHS negligence premiums will nearly double to £713m in the next financial year. The figure, released to the Conservatives in a parliamentary answer, is an increase from £396m paid by trusts in 2008-09.”

Nuneaton waste plant bid costs taxpayers £50k
- Coventry Telegraph 19/2/09
“The controversial application to site a toxic waste plant in Nuneaton cost the taxpayer £50,000… The sums involved were £667 for routine expenditure on the planning application, £5,929 for non-routine expenditure on this planning application, £50,000, the county council’s estimates of cost in staff time and £7,950 payment from TCSR to cover the costs of processing the application..."

Fire firings under fire from union Salford Advertiser
, Lancashire - News 14:02 19-Feb-09
“Firefighters have hit out at plans to make further cuts to Salford's frontline crew and fire engines even though the county's fire death toll is above the national average. Information obtained by the Fire Brigades Union under Freedom of Information laws show that 10 firefighters will be removed from Agecroft Fire Station and one fire engine will be removed from Eccles, Salford and Broughton fire stations three times a week as part of 50 frontline job losses across the county. Union members have slammed the authority for damaging an already failing service.”

DNA is a ‘breach of rights’
- Evening Advertiser 19/2/09
“Figures obtained by the Adver under the Freedom of Information Act have revealed that police in Swindon took and stored DNA samples from 10,697 people between April 2007 and December 2008. Of those people, only 2,689 people were actually charged with an offence. Swindon defence solicitor Rob Ross says the figures contravene a European Human Rights court ruling before Christmas, which said that storing fingerprints of people who have not been found guilty in a court of law is a ‘breach of rights’ and ‘not necessary in a democracy’.”

Foreign drivers escape speeding fines
- Norfolk Now 19/209
“Almost 250 drivers caught speeding on Norfolk's roads escaped prosecution last year - because they were foreign. Figures released by police in response to a Freedom of Information (FOI) request show 248 vehicles with non-UK registration plates set off speed cameras in the county in 2008… The letter explains that fixed-penalty tickets for speeding can only be issued to drivers holding a UK licence, who live in the UK.”

City Airport to fine flights that breach curfew - Belfast Telegraph 19/2/09
“George Best Belfast City Airport today revealed that airlines which break its late night curfew will be fined — as it emerged there were more than 500 flights after the 9.30pm deadline last year [under the Freedom of Information Act].”

Health donations invested in chocolate company
- Gloucester Citizen 18/2/09
“Thousands of pounds of public donations to hospitals intended to help fight ill health have been invested in a chocolate company. Reports released under Freedom of Information laws reveal Gloucestershire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust General Charitable Fund, the body responsible for managing donations from satisfied patients and well-wishers, has used some of the cash to buy nearly £13,500 worth of shares in chocolate-maker Cadbury. The registered charity has also bought more than £70,000-worth of shares in failing banks HBOS and Royal Bank of Scotland.”

Derriford Hospital's op cancellations among highest in the country - This is Plymouth 17/2/09
“Equipment failure, bed shortages and lack of staff at Derriford Hospital meant more than 600 cancelled operations last year. In the 2007/08 financial year, a total of 1,346 planned procedures were cancelled on the day of surgery, out of 56,145, at Plymouth Hospitals NHS Trust. The figure is one of the highest in the country.”

Police seize £1.3m from suspected criminals using Proceeds of Crime Act
- Wales Online 16/2/09
“More than £1m has been taken out of the pockets of suspected drug dealers, people smugglers and suspected terrorists to fight crime. The money was seized by South Wales Police between 2005 and 2009 under the Proceeds of Crime Act (POCA). Figures released to the Echo under the Freedom of Information Act, reveal that some of the money recovered was due to be used for terrorism."

A Kentish Lad and baby lotion: Kingston council workers' gifts revealed
- Your Local Guardian 16/2/09
“Body lotion, a baby outfit and a Siberian medal were among the gifts showered on Kingston Council officers. The register of interests for the past three years, which some councils publish routinely, was obtained by the Surrey Comet under Freedom of Information laws… Officers are advised to be careful when receiving gifts, particularly from contractors, and are forbidden from accepting money.”

Scotland

Holyrood runs up £36k bill - The Scotsman 21/2/09
“Mobile phone bills totalling more than £36,000 [for 2007-08] were run up by staff working for ministers in the Scottish Government. Of the total, around £16,000 was spent on call charges, which suggests that the remainder was spent on text messaging and using Blackberries to surf the internet, it was reported today.”

No police speed penalties
- Dundee Evening Telegraph 16/2/09
“A Tayside Police officer was caught speeding at 144mph — but still escaped any penalty, an investigation by the Tele has revealed. Figures obtained under Freedom of Information legislation show the incident was just one of 250 when police vehicles were caught breaking the limit on Tayside’s roads last year — none of which led to prosecution… The news comes after it emerged the force’s Chief Constable Kevin Mathieson was caught driving at 72mph in a 60mph zone on the A9 near Kingussie.”

‘Feckless’ criminals cost courts nearly £2m - The Press and Journal 16/2/09
“Criminals who drag out court proceedings only to change their plea to guilty at the last minute cost taxpayers in the north, north-east and Tayside almost £2million last year. Figures obtained by the Press and Journal through freedom of information requests show 2,646 sheriff court cases were disposed of on the day they were scheduled to go to trial in Grampian, Tayside and the Highlands during 2007… Critics blamed the figures on ‘feckless’ criminals maintaining their innocence in the hope of their cases being abandoned and urged solicitors to do more to persuade their clients to admit their guilt at an early stage.”

Thatcher ordered report on cash cut for Scotland - The Scotsman 16/2/09
“A report commissioned by former prime minister Margaret Thatcher, now released under Freedom of Information legislation, identified ways of cutting Scottish expenditure, as determined by the controversial block grant and Barnett Formula. Written in 1986 by Brian Unwin, then deputy Cabinet secretary, the "Unwin Report" scrutinised spending levels in each part of the UK. Ministers were concerned that Scotland continued to receive disproportionate amounts of government cash despite a falling population. Mr Unwin suggested reducing the Scottish block either by updating its "baseline" figure or revising the Barnett Formula to take account of changes in population since 1979. A one-off adjustment to the baseline would cut Scottish spending by more than £400 million from 1986-89.”

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Diana correspondence is personal and must not be disclosed

ICO press release
18 Feb 2009
The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has ruled that correspondence between Diana, Princess of Wales, and the government should not be released under the Freedom of Information Act.

Under the Act communications with the Royal Family are exempt from disclosure, however this exemption is subject to the public interest test.

The ICO has upheld a decision by the Cabinet Office on the basis that the correspondence is of a personal nature and does not comment on government or public policy. The ICO’s ruling notes that ‘disclosure of information relating to communications with the Royal Family is likely to be strongest in cases where the information relates to the performance of a public role or function, as opposed to private or personal matters.’ Deputy Information Commissioner, Graham Smith, highlights that ‘it is important to draw a clear distinction between matters of public interest and matters about which the public may be merely curious.’

In the ruling the Deputy Information Commissioner also highlights that members of the Royal Family, some of whom are referenced in the correspondence, enjoy the same data protection rights as other individuals.

The full decision notice can be viewed at
http://www.ico.gov.uk/upload/documents/decisionnotices/2009/fs_50142320.pdf
ENDS

Monday, February 16, 2009

FOI disclosure stories 9-15 February 2009

Britain's 35 serial killers.. who will never be released from jail - The Sunday Mirror 15/2/09
“The full list of the 35 serial killers, torturers and sex maniacs was obtained by the Sunday Mirror under the Freedom of Information Act. All have been given "wholelife tariffs" - the ultimate sanction available to judges in murders involving extreme sexual or sadistic violence or abduction cases. Among the most notorious are the Moors Murderer Ian Brady, 71, and Dennis Nilsen, 64, who is thought to have killed 16 men after luring them to his flat in North London.”

Force spent £548,477 in search for Madeleine – Press Association 14/2/09
“British police have revealed the cost of assisting the Portuguese investigation into Madeleine McCann's disappearance, it was revealed yesterday. Leicestershire police's part in the search for the missing girl cost £548,477 in 2007-08, the force said. It was reimbursed for most of this amount by a Home Office grant of £525,069.”

Bank charges data released by government - Moneyextra.co.uk 12/2/09
“A freedom of information request from pressure group Legal Beagles has revealed that at least 65,000 people currently have their bank charge claims frozen. The penalty fees - which see banks charging customers £35 a time for offences such as exceeding overdraft limits - caused a consumer revolt in 2007.

 So great was the volume of claims cases that the Financial Services Authority obtained a waiver that year - leaving customers in limbo and awaiting the result of a High Court test case on the matter. However, this case has yet to be resolved, leaving the claimants unsure as to whether or not they will get their money back.”

The taxpayers’ bill so far for carmakers’ bailout: £527m – Daily Mail 10/2/09
“Britain's beleaguered car industry has already received generous taxpayer handouts of over half a billion pounds - even before a penny of Lord Mandelson's current £2.3bn bailout is dished out. Figures obtained from the Department for Business Enterprise and Regulatory Reform under a Freedom of Information request reveal that £527.5m has been awarded to companies in the automotive sector by government departments and Regional Development Agencies in England and Wales since 1990. News of the assistance comes as Britain's car industry, which is mostly owned by overseas giants like Ford, Nissan, Honda and Tata Motors, is pleading for yet more taxpayer assistance to help it through the current economic meltdown. In response to the slump in car sales, the industry is slashing jobs and mothballing factories.”

Rail fares pushed up by Government squeeze on train operators – Daily Telegraph 09/2/09
“Companies proposing the lowest increase in ticket prices have failed to win any of the last eight franchises awarded by the Department for Transport in the last four years. But two of the contracts have gone to bidders planning the biggest fare rises, documents released under Freedom of Information laws have shown… While fares on a number of journeys, principally commuter trips, are capped by the Government; many others are not. It is these unregulated fares – including off peak tickets bought in advance and fully priced peak-time "turn up and go" trips – which have risen more dramatically. Some of the increases have been eye-watering in recent years, such as a 15.2 per cent increase in the price of an open return ticket between Bristol and Edinburgh.”

Regional

Liverpool News: Number of Liverpool City Council employees earning more than £100k doubles
- Liverpool Daily Post 14/2/09
“The number of employees earning in excess of £100,000-a-year at Liverpool City Council has doubled in just one year, according to figures unearthed by the Labour opposition. In the 2006/07 financial year 12 earned more than £100,000 but the following year the number was 26, a Freedom of Information request has revealed… Liverpool council said of the 26, four are head teachers, whose salaries are set by the government, and another senior post has been made redundant.”

Preston development would have 'low' impact on Blackburn
- Lancashire Evening Telegraph 13/2/09
“A huge expansion of Preston city centre will only have a “low” impact on trade in Blackburn, a new [obtained under the Freedom of Information Act] report has concluded. The study was commissioned by Lancashire County Council to assess the impact of the £700million Tithebarn scheme… The report’s findings are a blow to opponents of the masterplan - which also includes Blackpool council - following a bitter war of words this week. Blackburn council bosses claim Tithebarn will take 14 per cent of the town’s trade. The report says it is “inevitable” Tithebarn will divert trade from other towns in Lancashire, but says the reverse will also happen.”

Dozens of big cats spotted across North Wales – Evening Leader 13/2/09
“In the last seven years, people have reported panther and lynx-like creatures across the North Wales region. Figures released under the Freedom of Information Act show that 45 big cat sightings have been recorded by North Wales Police… Zoologist Quentin Rose… believes the known reports are the tip of the iceberg. And he warns that if nothing is done, the big cat population could explode, posing a threat to wildlife, livestock and humans.”

Illegal car parkers going unpunished
– Eastern Daily Press 12/2/09
“Thousands of people in Norfolk are flouting parking laws unpunished after the number of traffic wardens was cut by more than half, the EDP can reveal. Wardens are handing out almost 50pc fewer parking tickets than in previous years - from 8,400 five years ago to 4,157 in the year to date - as Norfolk police prepare to hand over responsibility for park-ing enforcement to County Hall.”

New style Warrant and ID cards issued to North Wales Police - North Wales Weekly News 12/2/09
“North Wales Police has rolled out 3,000 new style warrant and ID cards to its police force at the cost of £6,000. The cards have been issued to all officers, special constables, police community support officers and crime scene investigators.”

One fifth of tenants threatened with eviction by West Lancs District Council - Skelmersdale Advertiser 12/2/09
“West Lancashire District Council threatened 1,152 council tenants (approximately one fifth) with eviction last year. The figures, which also reveal that 2,282 (36%) tenants were behind with their rent, were obtained by a Freedom of Information Act request. They reveal that 18.4% of council tenants have received a notice of seeking possession, which instruct tenants to pay rent or face court proceedings. The West Lancashire figure of 1,152 possession notices compares to an average of 381 for the 109 local authorities which responded to the FOI request by the Liberal Democrats.”

300 thefts from cemeteries - Express & Star 11/2/09
“There have been almost 300 reports of thefts in cemeteries across the West Midlands in the last three years, it has emerged. Thieves have taken everything from toys, flowers and headstones to cash and even bus passes. Details of the thefts have been released to the Express & Star by West Midlands Police following a request using Freedom of Information Act legislation. It shows that in 2006 there were 100 recorded thefts in cemeteries, while in 2007 there were 108 and in 2008 there were 82.”

Graffiti costs Peterborough £150,000 a year
– Peterborough Evening Telegraph 11/2/09
“The number of graffiti incidents blighting the city has fallen by 35 per cent – but it still costs taxpayers a whopping £150,000 a year in clean-up bills... Freedom of Information Figures obtained by The Evening Telegraph reveal there were 4,356 incidents last year, down from 6,769 in 2007. However, the yobs who blight the city on a daily basis with their unsightly scrawls still leave a huge bill to be picked up.”

Town hall 'used own staff to boost library membership figures' - This is London 11/2/09
“A council tried to boost its position in government rankings by getting its own workers to sign up for its library service, it was claimed today. Officers at Lambeth allegedly concocted a plan to encourage staff to join libraries so that the Audit Commission would give a glowing comprehensive performance assessment of the borough. Most emails obtained under the Freedom of Information Act referred to the plan as a "CPA quick win".”

Scotland

Thieves are at work in area’s biggest hospital
- The Press and Journal 14/2/09
“Hospitals are far from immune from theft, according to details revealed yesterday by the Highlands’ biggest hospital… The figures [obtained under the Freedom of Information Act] show that there were 82 reports of items lost or stolen between 2004 and last year, with the majority of victims being NHS staff – with cash, clothes, handbags, purses and wallets stolen, and ID badges and security passes belonging to employees being taken… A wedding ring, a £500 watch, a Poppy Appeal collection tin and even a car are among dozens of items that have been lost or stolen at Raigmore Hospital, Inverness, in the past five years.”

Police catch 'vandal' aged three – 09/2/09
“A three-year-old child was caught with a gang of children who were vandalising a building in Dundee, it has emerged [following a freedom of information request]… BBC Scotland has learned that the children had been throwing paint at a house which was due for demolition in the Fintry district of Dundee.”

Council bill for hiring consultants hits £27m
- The Press and Journal 09/2/09
"Highland and Moray councils have been accused of “throwing money down the drain” after it was revealed they spent £45million employing external consultants to carry out work on their behalf. Figures obtained by the Press and Journal under freedom of information laws show Highland Council spent £27million on consultants between 2004 and last year, while Moray Council’s bill amounted to £18million… the TaxPayers’ Alliance said relying on consultants had become an unnecessary “bad habit” for local authorities.”

Thursday, February 12, 2009

FOI: A shock to the system

In an article for the Reuters Institute, Jeremy Hayes* considers the Government’s options following a ruling ordering the release of Cabinet Minutes from 2003 on going to war in Iraq, under the Freedom of Information Act 2000.

http://reutersinstitute.politics.ox.ac.uk/about/news/item/article/foi-a-shock-to-the-system.html

* Jeremy Hayes, is a Senior Output Editor on The World Tonight on BBC Radio 4 and was a BBC Journalist Fellow at the Reuters Institute in Michaelmas term 2008. He is writing here in a personal capacity. His research report ‘The Prising of Information: How the Freedom of Information Act 2000 is serving journalism in the UK’, will be available on the Reuters Institute website in March.

The Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, established in autumn 2006, is based at the Department of Politics and International Relations at the University of Oxford.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

'Information Commissioner & Tribunal Decisions' courses

The Campaign for Freedom of Information is running a half-day training course on 'Information Commissioner & Tribunal Decisions' in London on 27 April 2009 and Birmingham on 30 April 2009.

The course, which is aimed at practitioners with a good working knowledge of the legislation, highlights key developments in the way the main exemptions, the public interest test and the legislation's procedural requirements are being interpreted.

Issues will include: "fair" and "unfair" disclosures of personal data; the FOI/EIR borderline; the Tribunal's recent approach to the disclosure of policy discussions; where the public interest line is being drawn; applying the cost limit; vexatious requests and advice and assistance.

Significant discounts available for more than one booking from the same organisation.

For further information http://www.cfoi.org.uk/pdf/ICandTribunalDecisionsApr09.pdf

Monday, February 09, 2009

Justice Committee supports appointment of new Information Commissioner

Press notice No. 14 of Session 2008-09
Monday 9 February 2009
In a short report released today, Monday 9 February 2009, the UK Commons' Justice Committee approves the appointment of Mr Christopher Graham as the new Information Commissioner. However, the Committee notes that steps need to be taken now by the Ministry of Justice to ensure that the Information Commissioner has the resources to clear the backlog of freedom of information cases in reasonable time.

The out-going Commissioner, Richard Thomas, made the compelling point in evidence to the Committee that he has 53 caseworkers dealing with freedom of information complaints from across the entire public sector, compared, for instance, to the 28 staff needed by the Ministry of Justice to deal with its incoming FOI requests alone.
...
The Justice Committee has repeatedly argued that the Information Commissioner should be made directly responsible to and funded by Parliament to protect the independence of the role, rather than being sponsored by the Ministry of Justice as at present, but Government has rejected this recommendation. The Committee also stressed in its report that it must always be clear that the Commissioner takes personal responsibility for decisions, and should remain an individual - technically a "corporation sole" - rather than a Commission.

Chair of the Committee Rt Hon Sir Alan Beith said: "In recent years many issues have arisen, some very high profile, that prove the need for strong protective measures for the vast amount of personal information about citizens now held by both government and private companies. Equally, the value of a right of access to much of the information held by the state has been demonstrated over and over again."

"We look forward to a continuing dialogue with the Information Commissioner on progress both in protecting people's personal information and in securing implementation of the letter as well as the spirit of the Freedom of Information Act."

"The Information Commissioner needs to be an independent and fearless champion of both data protection and freedom of information, with the resources to run an office that is efficient enough to be taken seriously. Following our pre-appointment hearing we endorse Mr Christopher Graham's suitability for appointment in the role and we wish him every success."

Committee Report: The work of the Information Commissioner: appointment of a new Commissioner (Third Report of Session 2008-09 (HC 146)

FOI disclosure stories 2 - 8 February 2009

Labour areas receive FOUR times more Lottery cash than Conservative constituencies - The Daily Mail 08/2/09
“Labour-held constituencies have a far better chance of winning generous Lottery grants than Conservative or Liberal Democrat areas, a new analysis reveals. Figures unearthed using the Freedom of Information Act show that among those areas receiving the most cash from the Big Lottery Fund last year Labour seats outnumbered Conservative by almost four to one. The five best-funded areas were all Labour constituencies. The study plotted all the UK Parliamentary constituencies which received grants totalling more than £1million last year from the Big Lottery Fund... Out of the 117 best-funded seats 74 were found to be Labour-held, compared with just 20 each for the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, and three for Scottish or Welsh nationalists.”

Half of all maternity units turned away new admissions last year, figures reveal
- The Daily Mail 08/2/09
“Almost half of maternity units closed their doors to new admissions at least once in the last year, figures showed today. Data obtained by the Conservatives under the Freedom of Information Act found that many health trusts across England had been forced to shut because they were full or had too few staff… An analysis of the data showed that 50 trusts (48 per cent) that responded had closed their maternity unit or had been forced to divert women to another site. Shadow health secretary Andrew Lansley said… “The Government must increase midwife numbers as they promised; make sure local maternity units get their fair share of NHS funding; and sort out their disastrous negotiation of EU rules on doctors' working hours.”

Favouring Particular Patients "Carries Risks", Warns MDDUS - Medical News Today 06/2/09
“GPs who favour particular patients or offer preferential treatment or advice could risk a GMC hearing, or even face a charge of discrimination in court, warns the Medical and Dental Defence Union of Scotland (MDDUS) today… The MDDUS knows of one case where a GP retained a friend on a practice's list after the friend moved out of the practice area. Another patient, who also moved, was automatically removed from the practice's list but got wind of the favouritism enjoyed by the first patient. They submitted a request for the practice policy on removals under the Freedom of Information Act.”

The cost of government flights: £18.5m - politics.co.uk 06/02/09
“The government spent £18.5 million on flights last year, casting doubt on its commitment to budgeting and reducing carbon emissions. The Taxpayers' Alliance carried out the first Whitehall-wide report on flight spending, collating data for the 2008 period. The report, which looked at 13 government departments' flight expenditure using the Freedom Of Information Act, also found the majority of tickets purchased were for first or business class. £10.6 million was spent on first or business travel seats, more than half the total spent.”

Corruption team spends up to £250,000 in wages - Guardian Unlimited 06/2/09
“The investigation team set up by City of London Police to look into alleged corruption in football has so far cost the taxpayer up to £250,000 in wages alone. The figures, obtained from City of London Police's freedom of information department, shed new light on the public expense of Operation Apprentice, which started in April 2007 and is expected to continue for at least another three months. The time and expense involved in the investigation, which has yet to lead to any charges being brought against the eight people who remain on bail, drew criticism…”

ID cards are here – but police can’t read them – Silicon.com 04/2/09
“The first UK ID cards have already been issued - but no UK police officers or border guards have any way of reading the data stored on them. Currently no police stations, border entry points or job centres have readers for the card's biometric chip, the Identity and Passport Service (IPS) revealed in response to an FoI (Freedom of Information) request by silicon.com about the £4.7bn identity cards scheme. The news comes in spite of the first ID cards being issued to foreign nationals in November last year, with the IPS expecting to issue 50,000 ID cards by April this year… With no readers in place, police and immigration officers are currently still relying on traditional methods of checking ID cardholders' identity, running a fresh set of prints against existing identity databases.”

NHS refusing to let patients opt out of Summary Care Record – Pulse 03/2/09
“NHS bosses leading the rollout of the Summary Care Record are refusing to take no for an answer from patients who say they want to opt out, Pulse can reveal… Documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show NHS Lincolnshire, one of the first trusts to adopt the care record, wants GPs to hand over patients’ details, so they can be invited ‘to the surgery to discuss it further’. The documents also reveal that when the PCT writes to patients, it will put the practice logo on letters so that they are sent ‘as if from the practice’. Dr Neil Bhatia, a GP in Yateley in Hampshire who has already opted out hundreds of his patients, warned handing over names of dissenting patients would be ‘a gross breach of confidentiality.’
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Social worker shortage 'a crisis' - BBC 3/2/09
"One in seven social worker posts across England is unfilled as a "real crisis" grips the profession, the Tories say. They say figures suggest a third of posts were unfilled at several councils in November 2008 - just before the Baby P abuse case became public...The Conservatives' figures, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, suggest that across England the national vacancy rate is 14%, up from 11% in 2005."

£65k on Beeb Xmas parties – The Sun 02/2/09
“BBC chiefs were under fire yesterday after it emerged £65,000 of licence-payers’ cash went on Christmas parties. Figures obtained by The Sun using the Freedom of Information Act reveal the Beeb splashed out £34,851 on bashes for TV crews and £30,375 for radio staff. News of the spending comes just weeks after the corporation said it needed to recoup a £140million budget shortfall over five years.”

Regional

Birmingham City Council is criticised for spending £275,000 on public relations agencies
– The Sunday Mercury, Birmingham 02/2/09
“Birmingham city council has been slammed by critics for spending over a quarter of a million pounds on external spin doctors in the last two years. Figures released to the Sunday Mercury under the Freedom of Information Act show the local authority has spent just over £275,000 on public relations agencies since 2007. The cash was spent despite the council having an internal press office manned by 10 full-time staff, headed up by Canadian spin doctor Debra Davis who joined in 2006 and who is believed to earn a six-figure salary.”

Number of emergency stop and searches in Croydon soars
- This is Croydon Today 08/2/09
“The number of emergency stop and search orders issued by police in Croydon has shot up over the last two years. Figures obtained by the Advertiser under the Freedom of Information Act show that in 2008, the Met Police approved 99 orders. This compares with just eight in 2005 and 15 in 2006. With normal stop and searches police can only search the specific individual they fear is carrying a weapon, drugs or stolen goods. An emergency stop and search differs in that it allows officers to search anyone in the area.”

Closures leave £800k in unpaid taxes
- Wakefield Express 06/2/09
“Council bosses are being forced to write off eye-watering amounts in unpaid business taxes when city firms go bust. In the past three years, Wakefield Council has written off £803,371 in National Non-Domestic Rates (NNDR) which would otherwise be returned to central government. Figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act reveal that £274,800 was written off in the financial year 2005/06, followed by £253,483 and £280,854 in the following two years.”

Depressed and psychotic patients face two-year wait – Warrington Guardian 05/2/09
“Severely depressed and psychotic patients are facing two-year waiting lists for life-changing treatment. Enhanced day therapy can potentially save the lives of people with acute mental health problems, but the waiting list is currently two years long, a Freedom of Information request by the Warrington Guardian has revealed.”

Knives confiscated from people in court—then handed back!
- East London Advertiser 05/2/09
“The weapons are routinely confiscated by security staff at Thames Magistrates’ court, but then handed back when the knife owners leave the building—just a stone’s throw from Bow police station. The practice was uncovered in a ‘Freedom of Information’ request which revealed 38 people had turned up to the courthouse in the Bow Road last year carrying knives. As many as 27 of the 38 knives confiscated were actually handed back afterwards—because the blades were less than the 3½ins long, which is legally permitted to be carried.” 



AM calls on Government to name and shame employers not paying minimum wage
- Wales Online 05/2/09
“Nearly 300 employers in the Cardiff area have been caught not paying the minimum wage, it has been revealed. The figure has come to light after Plaid Cymru AM Leanne Wood won a secrecy battle against HM Revenue & Customs for the release of information on the locations of employers who fail to comply with the law… Ms Wood argued that the names of all employers who had been caught not paying the minimum wage should be publicised.”

Stack overtime cost taxpayers £600,000 last year
- Kentish Express 04/2/09
“The police overtime bill for Operation Stack was more than £625,000 in 2008, the Kentish Express can reveal. The figure was five times as much as it was three years ago, figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act reveal. Stack, which is brought in when bad weather or industrial action blocks the Channel ports causing a backlog of lorries that have to be “stacked” on the M20, was implemented 21 times last year and cost £625,309 in police and support staff overtime. In 2005 Stack was implemented 18 times and cost £123,000 in overtime.”

Fewer sick days for police officers
- Nottingham Evening Post 04/2/09
“The number of sickness days taken by Notts police officers has fallen by 22% in the past five years, according to new figures [obtained under a Freedom of Information Act request]. They were off ill 21,924 days between April 1, 2007, and March 31, 2008, down from 28,086 between April 1, 2003, and March 31, 2004.”

West Midlands Police spend £10k on flatpack PCs
- Birmingham Mail 03/2/09
“Police have spent thousands of pounds on cardboard coppers. According to figures released under the Freedom of Information Act, West Midlands Police have spent £10,000 on flat pack PCs – the most spent by any force in the country. The force stressed the 80 cardboard cutouts of bobbies were designed as recruitment stands. But they also proved successful in scaring off crooks and keeping a lid on crime. According to the figures, 13 police forces in England and Wales had spent more than £20,000 on the cut-outs.”

Stormont makes savings on bright Christmas
- Belfast News Letter 03/2/09
“A Freedom of Information request submitted by the News Letter has revealed that brightening the corridors of power over the seasonal period cost the taxpayer £2,725.39. This is in marked contrast to the year before, when the display of decorations cost £5,524.69.”

Sex hate crimes go up by a quarter - Lancashire Evening Post 03/2/09
“Crimes committed against people in the county because of their sexual orientation have increased by more than a quarter, compared to four years ago. There are now almost seven incidents reported every week, a Freedom of Information investigation has revealed. According to latest figures, between April 1, 2007 and March 31, 2008, there were 353 homophobic hate crimes recorded in the county, compared to 282 in 2004/5 – an increase of just over 25%.”

Hundreds of police officers escape speeding fines - Yorkshire Post 02/2/09
“Hundreds of West Yorkshire police officers escaped speeding fines after being caught driving too fast on non-emergency calls, it has been revealed. Speed cameras captured 437 police drivers breaking official limits over the past two years, according to information obtained under the Freedom of Information Act. But only 29 officers paid a £60 penalty, with 390 claiming they were exempt from the charge because they were on "urgent police duties".”

Few convictions for dog attacks – Waltham Forest Guardian 02/2/09
“Two people are attacked by dogs every month, yet there are few prosecutions, new figures [obtained using the Freedom of Information Act] show. Last year, from January to November, there were 22 reports of dog attacks against people in Waltham Forest, yet just four prosecutions for offences under the Dangerous Dogs Act.”

Scotland

Third of students are given first-class degree
- The Sunday Times - News 08/2/09
“A third of students are being awarded first-class honours degrees in some subjects at Scotland’s leading universities, prompting claims that marks are being manipulated to inflate grades. The number of firsts — formerly the gold standard of higher education — has risen significantly in the past five years, say figures published today under the freedom of information act. At Edinburgh nearly a quarter (22%) of students across all subjects were awarded firsts last year, up from 17% in 2004. At St Andrews, Scotland’s oldest university, 19% of students received firsts last year, up 6%, while at Glasgow and Aberdeen the proportion of students given firsts rose from 14% to 16% and 10% to 13% respectively.”

Revealed: how primaries are failing Scots pupils – The Sunday Times 08/2/09
“Scotland's education system is failing tens of thousands of pupils who are starting secondary school without a basic grounding in literacy or numeracy, according to new figures published today. Up to a third of schools in some local-authority areas fail to achieve a 50% success rate in getting pupils to the minimum level of writing by the end of primary seven (P7). Dozens of schools failed to teach more than half of their pupils the basics in reading and mathematics, according to figures obtained by The Sunday Times under the Freedom of Information Act.”

Fishing club wins £4000 for river pollution
- The Scottish Herald 06/2/09
“Anglers on a Clyde tributary have won £4000 from Scottish Water in an out-of-court settlement after it dumped sewage sludge into their river, wiping out the fish stock. But the fishermen and anti-pollution campaigners say the fines levied on offenders are too low to act as a meaningful deterrent. Statistics obtained by the anglers under the Freedom of Information Act show Scottish Water has been prosecuted 67 times in 10 years for waste water offences... According to the statistics obtained by the club, the water authority had paid more than £360,000 in fines for waste water offences in more than 10 years. The average was less than £5000."

Monday, February 02, 2009

FOI disclosure stories 26 January-1 February 2009

Bosses' bumper pay at ailing Channel 4 – The Sunday Times 01/2/09
“Channel 4, the state-owned broadcaster that is seeking a massive public bailout, employs 19 bosses each earning more than the prime minister, according to new figures. The executives, who are paid at least £190,000 a year, are among a group of 91 staff at the channel who enjoy six-figure salaries. The disclosure, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, is embarrassing for the broadcaster which claims it will have an annual shortfall of £150m in its finances by 2012… Channel 4 does not make any of its own programmes, yet almost an eighth of its 800-strong workforce earns a salary of at least £100,000.”

Incapacity benefit scheme fails to meet targets – Telegraph.co.uk 30/1/09
“The poor performance of the Pathways to Work programme casts doubt on the entire direction of the Government's thinking on welfare… Figures released under a freedom of information request to the website IndusDelta show that the success rate for the Incapacity Pathways scheme between April and September last year - before the full impact of the recession and the associated rise in unemployment was in place - ran at just 27 per cent of its target. Ministers are committed to shifting most of the 2.6 million people currently claiming incapacity benefit into work, with only those with the most extreme physical or mental disabilities being spared the requirement to find a job. By the end of the 2008, the Pathways programme had been expected to deliver 73,200 jobs; the actual figures show that it was on target to find just 20,100.”

Few government departments budget for IT security training – Computer Weekly 30/1/09
“Most government departments do not have a specific IT security training budget, a Freedom of Information (FOI) request has revealed. Only one in nine government departments that responded to the FOI request from Firebrand Training said it had a specific budget for training staff in IT security… This approach is short-sighted, according to Robert Chapman, chief executive of Firebrand Training. "Training people is about improving their effectiveness and if they do not understand how to protect against security threats, the risk of exposure is much higher," he said.”

Speeding fines and prosecutions increase sevenfold in 10 years - Telegraph.co.uk 29/1/09
“Speed camera offences rose from 262,000 in 1996 to 1,865,000 in 2006, while the number of speed cameras in England and Wales rose from under 2,000 in 2000 to more than 5,500 by 2006. Conservative MP Mark Field, who obtained the figures [under a Freedom of Information request], says it is time the "pendulum turned back to the long-suffering motorist".

NICE guidance row fuelling huge leap in GP dermatology referrals - Pulse 28/1/09
"NICE’s controversial skin cancer guidance appears to be fuelling the sharp rise in hospital activity, with new figures showing a huge jump in referrals to dermatology departments. GP dermatology referrals soared by 24% year on year in the last nine months of 2008, according to figures from 30 NHS acute trusts. If replicated across England, the increase would represent a massive 140,000 extra GP referrals to dermatology departments since last April. Figures collected by Pulse using the Freedom of Information Act provide the first evidence of which clinical areas have fuelled the successive quarterly jumps in overall referrals, which have pushed many PCTs towards financial crisis."

Elderly forced to sell homes to pay care costs - Channel 4 28/1/09
“Families and patients face a postcode lottery when it comes to selling their homes to pay for care home costs, new research has revealed. Patients in some parts of the country are being forced to sell their homes to receive residential care, as councils neglect to use discretionary powers which would prevent such sales, it has been found. Almost 50 per cent of councils opted not to use these special powers in the past financial year - meaning families had to sell up - a series of Freedom of Information (FoI) requests to local authorities showed today."

£2m wasted - Allister - Ballymoney Times 28/1/09
“Traditional Unionist Jim Allister has revealed the cost of pupil profiling and in doing so has called for the Revised Curriculum to be scrapped. The MEP was speaking after seeing documentation obtained through the Freedom of Information Act which stated that the total cost of profiling was more than two million pounds.”

Boris and Blair's war of words – Channel 4 26/1/09
“The war of words erupted between the two after the then London mayoral candidate Johnson publicly described police officers involved in the tragedy at Stockwell tube station as "trigger happy", correspondence obtained under Freedom of Information by Channel 4 News shows. The feud, which sheds new light on the strained relationship between the pair and the controversy over whether the London mayor eventually forced Blair out, resulted in Johnson refusing to apologise for the remarks, the letters show.”



Councils have paid £690m since empty building relief was removed - Building Magazine 26/1/09
“Councils have paid £690m in business rates on unoccupied property they own since the government's abolition of rates relief on empty buildings, according to the Business Centre Association. The BCA said 320 local authorities and regional development agencies are paying the amount to the government, following a freedom of information request to find out exactly how much councils are having to fork out. Last April, new legislation said warehouses that had stood empty for at least six months were subject to the rate. Shops and offices are eligible for the tax after only three months unoccupied. This has seen a number of property owners carry out demolitions to avoid paying the tax - with opponents referring to the resultant outcome as “Bombsite Britain”.”

PBC bursts into life with leap in new services – Pulse 26/1/09
“The Government’s flagship practice-based commissioning scheme is finally showing signs of creaking into life, a Pulse investigation reveals. Data obtained under the Freedom of Information Act shows a more than 10-fold increase in new services commissioned over the last two years… the new findings suggest rumours of the demise of the policy may have been exaggerated. Back in 2006, PBC was virtually moribund, with the 33 PCTs that provided details to Pulse having approved or launched just 34 new services through the scheme. But over the last two years there has been a dramatic increase in activity, up to 247 services in 2007 and 394 in 2008...”

Regional

Hospitals in £1.3m foreign debt burden – Wales on Sunday 01/2/09
“The NHS is struggling to recover almost £1.3m owed by foreign patients treated in Welsh hospitals… Scores of non-EU nationals who are charged for NHS care have not paid their bills over the past three years. A Freedom of Information request by Wales on Sunday found that NHS trusts are chasing £1.27m from former patients. The money could pay for 40 senior nurses for a year or provide more than 60 hip replacements… Jonathan Morgan, the Conservative Shadow Health Minister, said: “With the NHS facing so many financial pressures, with many in great debt, it is imperative that the NHS recovers the money owed by non-EU nationals.”

Murderers and rapists living on our streets - Express & Star - Dudley 30/1/09
“More than 100 murderers, rapists and robbers sentenced to life in prison are living in towns and cities across the Midlands… The figures show there are 117 people who have been given life sentences residing in Staffordshire and West Midlands. The figures, obtained using Freedom of Information laws, show there are a total of 111 men and six women jailed for life for such crimes as murder, manslaughter, rape, robbery, grievous bodily harm, arson.”

Shocking rise in deaths from NHS blunders in Wales - Daily Post 30/1/09
“Nearly 200 people were ‘killed’ by medical errors, accidents and abuse in the Welsh NHS last year. A staggering 191 deaths were recorded in hospitals in 2007-8, a Freedom of Information request by the Liberal Democrats revealed. That was nearly a 50% increase compared to 129 deaths recorded in 2005-6 a party statement said… Welsh Lib Dem health spokesperson Peter Black said NHS patient death resulting from error was regrettable, and the sharp increase in deaths over three years was unacceptable. “The rise in deaths due to errors within the NHS is shocking given that many of these deaths are avoidable,” he said.”

Wasteful police are chumps at the pumps
– Southern Daily Echo 30/1/09
“Thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ cash have been wasted by police officers filling their cars with the wrong kind of fuel. Since 2005, more than £22,000 has been splashed out because petrol has been put in a diesel tank or vice-versa. A Freedom of Information request revealed that £2.5m has been spent on repairing police cars across the country over the past three years.”

Thousands of firms threatened with court
– Kent Business 29/1/09
“More than 4,400 businesses were threatened with court action for defaulting on their rates in just eight months, figures obtained by the KM Group reveal. The statistics show that councils in Kent issued 4,457 businesses with court summonses between April and November last year, with about 2,500 subsequently issued with liability orders by magistrates. When such orders are granted, councils have the power to make businesses insolvent or instruct bailiffs to take away property if the outstanding bills remain unpaid. Such moves can frequently result in firms and companies going bust. The figures indicate that increasing numbers of businesses are struggling with their bills as the recession bites. They prompted a call from business chiefs for councils to be more flexible.”

FOI reveals three police were jailed - BBCi, Kent 29/1/09
“Forty five officers in Kent and Sussex were arrested over a 29-month period, according to figures obtained in a Freedom of Information (FOI) request. Three officers, two from Kent and one from Sussex, were jailed between April 2006 and August 2008."

A third of crimes aren't solved
- South London Today 29/1/09
“One in three of all crimes reported to Lambeth police are dropped without being fully investigated. Figures obtained by the South London Press under the Freedom of Information Act show a total of 13,606 crimes – 38 per cent – were “screened out” last year, where officers believed there was little chance of solving them.”

Outrage over sex offenders not facing court - Lancashire Evening Post 29/1/09
“Concerns have been raised after it was revealed that several sex offenders were given warnings or cautions instead of being taken to court. The figures, obtained from Lancashire Police under the Freedom of Information Act, showed that cautions, conditional cautions, final warnings and reprimands were handed out for serious offences that could end up in a jail term – including the rape of a woman. Also among them were 14 indecent assaults on boys aged under 14, three on girls aged under 14 and four sex cases between family members.”

90pc asylum seekers given same date of birth - Your Local Guardian 29/1/09
“More than 90 per cent of asylum seekers registering at Croydon’s Lunar House are given the same date of birth, figures reveal. UK Borders Agency figures obtained under the Freedom of Information act showed in 2008, 24,437 visitors to its headquarters on Wellesley Road were given the date of birth as January 1. In 2007, of the 23,430 people applying for asylum in Britain, 21,652 – 90 per cent – were also given the January 1 birth date. According to the Home Office, those given the new identical date of birth did not have valid identification which proved their age or were unable to recall when they were born. Tory MP and Shadow Secretary, Chris Grayling demanded that the UK Border Agency (UKBA) find out more about the people that it lets into the country.”

Courts 'too lenient' on cruelty offenders - Belfast News Letter 28/1/09
“More than a quarter of animal cruelty offenders brought before the courts last year walked away without being charged for their crimes.... Figures obtained under a Freedom of Information question reveal the exact number of people brought before Northern Ireland courts in 2008 charged with animal cruelty related crimes...While 38 cases were taken to court, 11 were dismissed or withdrawn, and in at least another four cases, one of a multiple of charges was dismissed or withdrawn.”

Bus crime falls in Kingston - Your Local Guardian 28/1/09
“Crime on Kingston buses fell steeply last year, but violence still accounted for a third of total bus offences in the borough, according to new data from the Metropolitan Police. The figures, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, showed that violence against the person accounted for 94 of the 276 bus offences recorded in Kingston between January and November 2008, a 22 per cent fall from 2007. Overall bus crime fell by 33 per cent, faster than the London average, with robbery, criminal damage and theft all recording double-digit reductions.”

Charity warning over youth Asbos - Suffolk Evening Star 27/1/09
“Children’s campaigners today warned that dishing out Anti-Social Behaviour Orders (Asbos) to troublesome teens had failed to tackle the epidemic of youth disorder. The message was issued after it emerged that more than a quarter of Asbos currently in operation in Suffolk had been handed to children, some as young as 14. A Freedom of Information request made by The Evening Star to Suffolk Constabulary found that of the 42 'live' Asbos, 12 had been given to those under 18.”

An assault every six days at Bronzefield prison - StainesNews.co.uk 27/1/09
“Women prisoners at Bronzefield in Ashford launched one attack on their officers every five days last year, according to figures released by the Government. There were 80 assaults by inmates on officers in 2008 – more than twice the figure the previous year... The figures were obtained by Spelthorne MP David Wilshire tabling a question in the Commons..."

Norfolk rural areas lose out on ambulance cover - Norfolk Now 27/1/09
“Rural areas are losing out when it comes to getting an ambulance quickly, according to new figures. In October, the EDP reported concerns from the board of NHS Norfolk that the county was getting a poor deal and that the East of England Ambulance Service was "investing in built-up areas where the targets are more attainable".
 Now the North Norfolk MP and Liberal Democrat health spokesman Norman Lamb has obtained ambulance response times under the Freedom of Information Act. They show that Norfolk response times are slower than the east of England average, and that Norwich and Yarmouth were the best-performing areas in Norfolk.”

NHS slammed over consultant fees - Evening Star 27/1/09
“Health bosses in Suffolk are facing fresh criticism after admitting they had spent almost £900,000 of public money bringing in outside experts in just nine months. One month ago NHS Suffolk said it had spent £193,788 on external consultants between April and December - but yesterday it revealed the true figure was actually £866,437.”

Seized money stolen from police - BBC 26/1/09
“Money taken by police from a suspect was later stolen from a Leicester police station, it has emerged. The £2,000 was seized under the Proceeds of Crime Act and stored at the unnamed station in November 2007. A Freedom of Information request showed it was among items taken from police premises or vehicles in the city between November 2007 and October 2008. An investigation has been started, officers said, but no one had been arrested over the theft.”

Yob understood pensioner's feelings - Lancashire Evening Post 26/1/09
“More than 500 youngsters in Preston were referred to restorative justice sessions by Preston Police last year, it emerged today. Just five of the 520 young people referred by police in the city refused to take part in the sessions, which bring together victims and perpetrators of an offence or situation to resolve issues. A request to Lancashire Constabulary under the Freedom of Information Act (FOI) also revealed that 233 of the youths were given Penalty Notices for Disorder, while 165 received reprimands and 62 were given final warnings. The city police force uses restorative justice in a range of scenarios including anti-social behaviour, neighbourhood disputes, shoplifting and bullying.”

High-ranking Devon police win bonuses
- Express & Echo 26/1/09
“Thousands of pounds have been paid to senior police officers in Devon and Cornwall under a little-known bonus scheme, it has emerged. The constabulary's top- ranking officers shared pay-outs totalling £20,000 in one year under the Chief Officers' Bonus Scheme, designed to reward them for performing well in personal development reviews and assessments by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary.”

Scotland

Even the police are not immune from becoming crime victims
- The Press and Journal 31/1/09
“Information obtained by the Press and Journal under the Freedom of Information Act reveal thieves stole a laptop, baton, uniform, hat and notebook, worth more than £1,060 in total, from the force in 2007-08. In the first six months of 2008, a police fleece jacket and a warrant card were also reported as stolen. A number of items were also lost by officers throughout the period… Gordon MP Malcolm Bruce said the figures prove the police were as much a target of crime as everyone else…”

SNP's booze bill for events tops £36,000
- The Scotsman 30/1/09
“The SNP government spent more than £36,500 on alcohol at hospitality events in its first year at Holyrood. The bill is almost twice as much as the previous Labour/Liberal Democrat Scottish Executive spent in 2003/4. Among the hospitality bills released under freedom of information was a £3,916.98 tab for a British-Spanish forum's reception and dinner… The total for the year came to £36,548.09 over 58 events.”