Wednesday, March 25, 2009

FOI disclosure stories 16 -22 March 2009

Officials less than enthusiastic about identity cards - Telegraph.co.uk 20/03/09
“The authors of the ‘Gateway’ report, released under the Freedom of Information Act, wrote of their ‘concern’ about the response to the plans from Government agencies, departments and business. The report also identified a string of ‘important risks’ of launching the scheme, which it is now estimated will cost £4.7 billion. The report found ‘with some concern’ that the main groups which were to benefit from ID cards were not that enthusiastic after all."

Concern as English Heritage cites Wikipedia in listing submission
- Building Design 20/03/09
“The leading authority on the work of Colin St John Wilson, Roger Stonehouse, has expressed astonishment after English Heritage submitted a Wikipedia page on the architect as part of its evidence to the government on a key listing case. Documents released to BD under Freedom of Information show that English Heritage included a print-out from the online encyclopedia alongside its official report as part of the review of Colin St John Wilson’s Hereford House — controversially stripped of its grade II status by Barbara Follett last autumn in her first major decision as architecture minister.”

Prescriptions for opioids jump following co-proxamol ban - Pulse 17/03/09
“Opioid prescriptions have jumped during the withdrawal of co-proxamol, with GPs apparently struggling to find adequate means of pain control for some patients. Prescriptions for morphine have risen by more than 40% and those for tramadol by two-thirds since co-proxamol use was first reduced in anticipation of the drug’s withdrawal. An analysis for the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency, obtained by Pulse under the Freedom of Information Act, reveals prescriptions for co-proxamol plummeted from 835 million in 2004 - the year prior to legislation on its withdrawal - to 121 million in 2007.”

Regional

Unpopular parking plan sparked by single request - Your Local Guardian 21/03/09
“A ‘Disastrous’ effort to block residents’ drives to create four extra parking spaces in three Twickenham roads was sparked by one person’s request to the council. Following a request under the Freedom of Information Act, Richmond Council revealed it spent £1,600 on consultation fees on a scheme that would have put spaces in front of four driveways in Beauchamp Road. Residents spent their own time and money to fight off the unpopular plans.”

Westminster council chiefs £84,000 sports car spend - London Informer 20/03/09
“Company cars - including a BMW, Jaguar and a Mazda - for Town Hall bosses are costing Westminster taxpayers' tens of thousands of pounds each year, it has been revealed. Figures released under the Freedom of Information Act shows the council spends £84,000 to lease a fleet of 26 cars for top City Hall managers, raising questions over council spending as the downturn hits taxpayers. Westminster and City of London Liberal Democrats, who put in the FOI request, have asked the council to explain why it needs to pay for senior staff to have sports cars when the borough is well served by public transport.”

One operation each day is cancelled at acute hospital - West Cumberland Times & Star, Cumbria 19/03/09
“About one person per day has been turned away from surgery at the West Cumberland Hospital in Whitehaven, figures have revealed. The details, released under the Freedom of Information Act, requested by the Times & Star, show that last year 348 operations were cancelled at the hospital, with 67 not going ahead in January and February this year.”

Fouling fine figures are embarrassing - This is Cheshire 19/03/09
“Warrington Borough Council has issued only four fixed penalty notices for dog fouling in the three years since setting up a dedicated unit, it has been revealed. The environmental enforcement unit was given powers in 2006 to issue £50 on-the-spot fines to anyone who fails to clean up after their dog in a public place.”

Harrow and Wembley tube lines top refunds list
- Harrow Observer 19/03/09
“In the latter half of last year more passengers were paid refunds for journeys delayed by late-running trains on the Metropolitan and Jubilee lines than on any other underground lines. Figures obtained by the Harrow Observer under the Freedom of Information Act show Tube bosses doled out £118,447 for 26,273 claims relating to the Met line between June and November. Jubilee Line passengers received paybacks totalling £73,907 for 19,369 claims in the same period.”

Crucial Times investigation lifts the lid on health claims - Bexley Times 19/03/09
Since April last year, bosses at A Picture of Health (APoH), a health committee, refused to provide the clinicians' names who agreed with their plans to axe an A&E and maternity unit, claiming it would breach their confidentiality. But a year on, and only when they were referred to the Information Commissioner's Office, they finally admitted a record of attendees was not even made. 

This revelation throws fresh doubt that the proposals, which included stripping (QMS) of it's A&E, maternity unit and its in-patient paediatrics unit, were clinically not financially driven.

Dover's 10 year housing list wait - This is Kent 19/03/09
“People on the Dover District Council housing list could face waits of up to a decade before they are offered a home. The shocking figure has been revealed to the Dover Express under the Freedom of Information Act. The district has 1,677 homes, both council and private, laying empty and 3,142 people on the housing list either waiting for a home or a transfer to a different property. But those people could be a long way from getting a property.”

Learning to cope in 90 tongues! - Bradford Telegraph & Argus 19/03/09
“More than 70 per cent of children at nearly a quarter of mainstream primary schools in Bradford do not speak English as their first language, according to the latest figures. An A to Z of 90-plus different languages are mother tongues of some 16,623 pupils at Bradford’s 40 most linguistically-diverse primaries, according to figures obtained by the Telegraph & Argus in a Freedom of Information inquiry.”

£6,000 Health trust promotional video pulled - News Guardian 19/03/09
“A hospital trust spent £6,000 creating a video promoting its plans for a new emergency hospital, a Freedom of Information (FOI) request has revealed. The FOI submitted to Northumberland Healthcare Trust revealed that its online 'Experience the future' video cost £6,000 to produce. The response also revealed that one of the patients filmed and interviewed in the video, named 'John' was not a patient, but was actually a member staff working in the trust's communications department.”

Alcoholics pocket £10m
- Manchester Evening News 18/03/09
“More than 4,000 alcoholics are claiming full-time disability benefits in Greater Manchester - landing taxpayers with a £10m annual bill… They show a total of 4,220 people were claiming Incapacity Benefit (IB) or Severe Disablement Allowance (SDA), where alcoholism was listed as the main `disabling condition'. The weekly bill to the taxpayer for benefits paid out across the region is between £250,835 and £373,490. Disability benefits are state handouts aimed at those who can't work because of disability or illness and are worth up to £84.50 a week. They both unlock further benefits, such as support with council tax and housing bills.”

£1m health spend on consultants - EveningNews24 18/03/09
“Health bosses in Norfolk and Waveney were slammed last night for spending more than £1m a year on outside consultants, including Bupa, lawyers and management consultants. NHS Norfolk, has paid Bupa Commissioning £82,000 for “organisational development, including team coaching and masterclasses”. NHS Norfolk has 270 of its own staff, plus some 3,000 in its provider arm, Norfolk Community Healthcare.”

Hospital 'red alert' bed pressures shock
- The Citizen 18/03/09
“East Lancashire hospitals are increasingly declaring a state of ‘red alert’, despite introducing a range of measures designed to ease the pressure on beds. Figures obtained by the Lancashire Telegraph under the Freedom of Information Act show that 55 per cent of the hospital’s time since August has been spent on red alaert - defined by the hospital as ‘extreme pressure’ for beds.”

Big drop in migrant jobseekers to area
- HumberBusiness.co.uk 18/03/09
“The number of eastern Europeans rushing to work in North Lincolnshire has plunged by almost a third, new figures have revealed. Statistics, released by the UK Border Agency, show the number of immigrants registered to work in the county last year plunged by almost 30 per cent, from 645 to 495.”

Police interpreters cost £20,000 a month - Evening Star 18/03/09
“Interpreters for suspects, victims and witnesses have cost Suffolk police nearly £1.25million over the past eight years… In the last 11 months £219,860 - an average of just over £19,900 per month - has been spent on interpreters according to Suffolk Constabulary's reply to a Freedom of Information request by the EADT.”

Ambulance control room errors shock
- Evening Gazette 17/03/09
"A Freedom of Information request by Middlesbrough Council has highlighted 254 cases in which ambulances were misdirected between October 2006 and July 2008. An investigation by the North East Ambulance Service (NEAS) has revealed that 80 of the mishaps were down to human error, 97 were caused by the ambulance satellite navigation system, and 66 were due to a system error with the command and control system.”

Breakdowns in police radio - BBCi 16/03/09
“A new police communication system has been plagued by breakdowns, including during some of the biggest emergencies in Devon and Cornwall. ‘Airwave’ failed on 93 occasions between 2005 and 2008, according to figures released under a Freedom of Information request… The force admitted problems had occurred in remote areas or when the volume of calls had overwhelmed the system.”

Schools tarnished by 5,000 racist incidents - Yorkshire Post 16/03/09
“More than 5,000 racist incidents have been reported in the region's schools in the past two years – with primary schools the worse affected, according to figures obtained by the Yorkshire Post. In the last two academic years, Yorkshire primary schools recorded 3,018 incidents while secondary schools reported just over 2,000. Statistics obtained under the Freedom of Information Act also show that more than 700 pupils have been excluded from school because of their racist behaviour.”

Amazing variety of interests declared by police officers
- Wales Online 16/03/09
“Barbers, film extras, magicians and carpet cleaners – just some of the jobs police officers in Wales do when they’re off duty. The Western Mail can today reveal some of the more unusual part-time careers pursed by the nation’s law enforcement officers when they’re not pounding the beat. Using the Freedom of Information Act, we have discovered officers, who start on £21,000 and can earn six figures at the top of their profession, fill their spare time earning extra cash in a wide variety of roles.”

Criminal convictions of teaching applicants - EveningNews24 16/03/09
“People convicted of growing cannabis, committing grievous bodily harm and stealing motor vehicles have all applied to become teachers in the county over the last two years, it can be revealed. The convictions were uncovered following a Freedom of Information request to the Criminal Records Bureau, a Home Office agency tasked with providing information on people who apply for jobs working with children or vulnerable adults. The list for 2008 showed out of the 2,158 disclosure applications for the position of teacher in the Norfolk area, 29 people had criminal convictions.”

Scotland

City splashes out on water - The Edinburgh Evening News 21/03/09
“Council chiefs spent £10,000 on bottled water last year, according to details released under freedom of information laws. The outlay comes despite bottled water being banned from councillors' meetings in May last year. The bulk of the money spent was buying bottled water for the council's own restaurants and school tuck shops.”

Cancer patients ‘being left to die’ - Dumfries and Galloway Standard 19/03/09
“NHS bosses have been accused of ‘leaving cancer patients to die’ after figures revealed treatment was turned down in half of specialist cases. According to a report by the Rarer Cancers Forum, Dumfries and Galloway NHS has the joint worst rate in Scotland for approving treatment for uncommon types of the disease. Officials from the charity submitted a Freedom of Information request to all Scottish NHS boards and over a two-year period found that 50 per cent of the exceptional cases locally were approved for funded treatment.”

The most violent school in Scotland - Central Fife Times 18/03/09
“Benarty Primary School is the most violent in Scotland, according to figures released this week. In the 2007/08 school year, 29 assaults by children were recorded, a third of which were against staff. The shocking statistics, released under freedom of information laws, puts the Lochore primary top of a list of Scottish schools with the highest number of exclusions. Camstradden Primary in Glasgow was second with 24 exclusions in 2007/08.”

Three Rs concern in city schools - BBCi 16/03/09
“Figures revealing poor basic literacy levels at schools in Aberdeen have been condemned as alarming. At half the city's schools, a majority of children failed to meet benchmark standards in writing by the age of 14. The figures, released under the Freedom of Information Act, also showed that in a quarter of schools, most pupils failed to make the grade in reading.”

Artworks loaned to UK Government return to Scotland - The Herald 16/03/09
“More than 100 works of art that used to be on display in government residences in London have been returned to Scotland. Eighty works of art owned by the National Galleries of Scotland, previously held at the Lord Chancellor's Office in Westminster, and 24 that used to be on display at Dover House, the Whitehall home of the Scottish Office, have now been returned since 2006 [reveals an inquiry under the Freedom of Information act to the National Galleries of Scotland (NGS) about the status of loaned art].”

Friday, March 20, 2009

FOI disclosure stories 9 - 15 March 2009

2m have 'spy devices' in their bins - Telegraph.co.uk 15/03/09
“Figures released using the Freedom of Information Act show 42 local authorities have installed the 'spy' devices in rubbish containers to record how much residents are throwing away. Councils insist the information collected by the microchips, which measure the weight of rubbish placed in bins, will be used to educate households about cutting waste, targeting those who are the worst at recycling… The figure show two million households now have bins fitted with microchips.”

Museums lose nearly 200 artifacts – Telegraph.co.uk 14/03/09
“Details obtained under the freedom of information act show that museums including the Natural History Museum, the Science Museum, the Imperial War Museum and the Royal Armouries have lost 198 items since 2000. Items that have disappeared from the museums include a Victoria Cross (VC) medal belonging to one of the Second World War's most decorated soldiers, dozens of antique rifles and pistols, a painting worth £200,000 and a collection of 14
microscopes worth £157,000. The museums' losses total £501,995.”

UK sees influx of foreign IT workers despite job losses, figures reveal - ComputerWeekly 13/03/09
“Thousands of UK job losses in IT coincided with a massive influx of IT workers from outside the European Union in 2008, figures have revealed. The Association of Professional Staffing Companies (APSCo) got the data from the Home Office through a freedom of information request. Over 35,000 UK work permits were issued to non-EU IT workers in 2008 compared with about 13,000 in 2000 at the peak of the dot.com boom. APSCo said the government's immigration points system was failing to restrict non-European workers to those with the most sought after skills.”

Blair aides did know Britain was NOT in imminent danger of attack from Saddam - The Daily Mail 13/03/09
“Secret emails suggesting that Britain was duped into war in Iraq were released yesterday, renewing calls for a full-scale public inquiry into the conflict. Documents released under freedom of information laws show Government officials pressed intelligence chiefs to strip out caveats about Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction. Agents complained that the Government's infamous dossier making the case for war suggested Saddam's biological warfare programme was more advanced than they believed to be the case. They also privately mocked claims about Iraq's nuclear programme, joking that atomic specialists the document suggested had been assembled in Iraq must be 'Dr Frankenstein'."

Fire crews 'lifting obese patients daily' - Guardian Unlimited 13/03/09
“Firefighters are being called about once a day by the NHS to lift and carry obese people whom staff have found too heavy to move, according to figures released under the Freedom of Information Act. Official figures show that fire crews in England have been deployed 1,784 times in the last five years to assist with grossly overweight people, weighing up to 42 stone. Some had become stuck in their bath or car, or had been unable to get up after falling, or had experienced a medical problem such as a heart attack.”

The real story of Britain's most famous hangman - The Independent 12/03/09
“He is remembered as a man of principle. But secret papers unearthed by Cahal Milmo show that Albert Pierrepoint was in fact a money-grabbing fantasist… documents obtained by The Independent under the Freedom of Information Act reveal that he in fact resigned with an angry tirade at the "meanness" of his employer. The papers reveal the full story of Pierrepoint's sudden departure from the post he held for 24 years in an atmosphere of mutual dislike and recrimination.”

Police criminal convictions exposed - BBC 11/03/09
“More than 1,000 serving police officers in Britain have criminal convictions, the Liberal Democrats have reported. More than half of the 1,063 convictions relate to speeding or other motoring offences; 77 officers have convictions for violence and 96 for dishonesty… The figures cover only those forces in England, Scotland and Wales which responded.”

GPs defy BMA guidance over incentive schemes to cut referrals - Pulse 10/03/09
“GPs are defying GPC guidance en masse and renewing their participation in controversial referral incentive schemes, Pulse has learned. The GPC has urged GPs not to take part in any scheme containing ‘an incentive, target-based element’, warning that GPs risk breaching GMC rules of conduct. But figures released under the Freedom of Information Act show that 141 of the 148 practices in Hampshire have signed up to both components of a target-based of the scheme for 2009/10. The Hampshire scheme offers practices a payment of £2,400 for an average-sized practices for a three month clinical review of referrals, and a further £4,000 for meeting targets for restricting growth in referrals.”

England's dirtiest care homes 'must be shut down' - Lib Dems - 24dash.com 10/03/09
“A hard core of care homes across England have repeatedly failed to meet basic standards in hygiene and infection control, and a handful of homes have failed inspections four or more times in three years, research by the Liberal Democrats has revealed. The information, uncovered through Freedom of Information requests to the Commission for Social Care Inspection (CSCI), revealed that 169 homes had recorded major failures in unannounced inspections, 28 of them on more than one occasion.”

Big rise in cannabis 'factories' - BBC 10/03/09
“A big increase in the number of ‘cannabis factories’ discovered by police has been revealed. Figures show rises since 2004 of 174 to 672 finds in the West Midlands, zero to 53 in North Wales, and zero to seven for Scotland's Northern Constabulary. Thirty police forces in England, Scotland and Wales responded to Freedom of Information requests from BBC News. Organised criminal gangs, many from south-east Asia, are responsible for the rise, police believe.”

NPfIT costs include £3m on hotels and business travel - ComputerWeekly 09/03/09
“Contracted costs of the NHS's IT programme include more than £1m with a hotel reservations agency, nearly £2m with a business travel company, and £150m with consultancies - for two of the six years the scheme has been running. The figures released by the Department of Health under the Freedom of Information include contracts worth more than £2m with three public relations firms - and a further £30,000 with a press cuttings agency. The released documents show that central costs of the National Programme for IT (NPfIT) are substantial and rising, despite at least four years of delay in the roll out of e-records, which is the main part of the scheme.”

Regional

Bonuses of £100,000 paid to council chiefs
- Kent Messenger
"Bonuses of more than £100,000 were paid to Kent County Council's top officers last year, we can exclusively reveal. The council has confirmed its highest paid officials, including chief executive Peter Gilroy, together received £102,247 in bonuses in 2007-2008, on top of their six figure salaries. That equates to an average of £14,000 each, more than is earned in a year by the lowest-paid staff in KCC's pay scheme. The details of the bonuses, released to the KM Group under the Freedom of Information Act, are likely to fuel a continuing political row over town hall "fat cat" pay."

Number of Croydon police crashes revealed for last year - This is Croydon Today 14/03/09
“The number of police crashes in Croydon has dropped slightly over the past 12 months [according to the figures obtained by the Advertiser under the Freedom of Information Act]. It shows in 2008 there were 125 collisions involving a police vehicle, 11 down on the previous year. Out of this number police were responsible for 50 of the accidents - nearly one a week. A total of 90 of the crashes happened while the police were NOT on an emergency 999 call."

Chorley police station thefts - The Chorley Citizen
“Property and cash stolen from police stations in Chorley accounted for half of all thefts from police premises in Lancashire last year. According to information obtained by the Chorley Citizen under the Freedom of Information Act, three of the six reported theft crimes in 2008 at Lancashire Constabulary stations occurred in the town.”

NSPCC condemns holding of thousands of Cheshire teenagers’ DNA - Chester Chronicle 13/03/09
“Thousands of Cheshire teenagers have their DNA held on the police database. Figures released under the Freedom of Information Act show 2,001 10 to 15-year-olds and 3,303 youths aged 16 to 17 have been swabbed by Cheshire police. The database includes people who have been arrested but not charged, those who have volunteered their DNA to eliminate themselves from enquiries and DNA taken at crime scenes.”

Developer blasts EH’s move to list barracks chapel - Building Design 12/03/09
“The developer behind Rogers Stirk Harbour & Partners’ Chelsea Barracks scheme in west London has launched an all-out attack on English Heritage’s attempt to list a Victorian chapel at the centre of the site. Correspondence obtained under freedom of information provisions shows that DP9, the planning consultant acting on behalf of developer Project Blue, has attempted to discredit EH’s grade II listing recommendation, claiming it was made in reaction to development plans rather than on the merits of the building. The allegation has been strongly denied by EH, which said it was ‘entirely inaccurate’.”

Health service security blunders exposed - Gloucester Citizen 12/03/09
“A catalogue of health service security blunders, in which dozens of confidential patient details were lost or mislaid, has been revealed for the first time. A Freedom of Information request has uncovered 34 separate incidents in Gloucestershire on which patient data has gone missing since December 2007. The list of errors includes the loss of a laptop containing details of 50 medical trial patients...”

£18k clean-up bill for city fountain - South Wales Evening Post 11/03/09
“Litterbugs and booze-fuelled pranksters are continuing to cost taxpayers money by fouling Swansea's city centre fountain. All sorts of muck and gubbins such as food containers, beer cans and traffic cones have been fished out by the contractor responsible for the fountain's maintenance. The bill for this work at Castle Square last year was £18,000. The cost was revealed in a Freedom of Information response to the Post.”

Hopes new crisis centre will mean fewer rapists walk free in Bristol - This is Bristol 11/03/09
“Avon and Somerset Constabulary was blasted last year for one of the lowest rape conviction rates in the country, and recent statistics for Bristol show only a minuscule improvement. The rape conviction rates for 2006 (the latest detailed figures available) were obtained by national equality body the Fawcett Society after a Freedom of Information request. They showed rape conviction rates had fallen in 18 out of 24 police forces, to an average of 6.1 per cent across England and Wales. But the figure for Avon and Somerset was just 4.2 per cent.”

Crime victims' data lost in post
- BBC 11/03/09
“The personal details of more than 2,300 crime victims were lost in the post by Gwent Police, BBC Wales has discovered. A CD went missing in May 2007, but the force said those affected were not told because it was decided their details could not be accessed. Freedom of Information (FOI) requests to the four Welsh forces also uncovered cases of staff using police national computers without authorisation.”

Norfolk Police lose £4,000 worth of radios - EveningNews24 10/03/09
“Almost £4,000 worth of state-of-the-art radios have been lost by police in Norfolk over the past five years, the Evening News can reveal.
A Freedom of Information request revealed 14 Motorola MTH800 handsets, which cost £280 each and are a key part of the force's Airwave communication system, have been reported as lost since 2004.”



Haringey: agency staff fill one-third of posts
- Community Care 10/03/09
“Nearly one-third of social work posts at Haringey Council's children's services are filled by agency staff, according to figures obtained by Community Care. The statistics, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, showed that on 31 January 2009 agency staff filled 62 of 204 children and families social work posts and nine were vacant.”

Pest team called in three times at Alhambra - Bradford Telegraph & Argus 09/03/09
“Pest controllers have had to deal with mice at Bradford’s showpiece Alhambra Theatre three times since last August. Dozens of schools, as well as Bradford Council offices, leisure centres and libraries have had to be cleared of unwanted rodents and insects in the last two years.”

Complaints against Southampton taxi drivers soar - Daily Echo 09/03/09
“Complaints about taxi drivers in Southampton have more than doubled in the past two years, the Daily Echo can reveal. Overcharging fares, bad driving and rude behaviour were the most common cause of complaint against 49 drivers last year. However, a Freedom of Information request showed that not a single driver had their licence stripped by Southampton City Council in 2008.”

Scotland

New Forth bridge prepartions left in disarray by government U-turn - Sunday Herald 14/03/09
“Essential preparatory work for construction of the Forth road bridge project is running at least five months behind schedule, because of the Scottish government's abrupt abandonment of its original £4.2 billion design, the Sunday Herald has learned. Documents obtained under freedom of information legislation from the Scottish Government agency Transport Scotland reveal that the delay, caused by the government's decision last year to redesign the proposed bridge to slash £2bn in costs from the project, meant that completed designs due to be seen by the public last September were still not complete by January this year.”

Team on trail of benefit fraudsters - Dundee Evening Telegraph 11/03/09
“A specialist team of Jobcentre investigators is probing around 150 allegations of benefit fraud in Dundee, Tayside and Fife every month. Already this financial year sanctions including court action and fines have been brought against 350 people, according to figures obtained under Freedom of Information… Benefit fraud is estimated to cost the UK economy upwards of £800 million a year.”

New DEFRA guidance on environmental information

DEFRA has published the following new guidance on the Environmental Information Regulations:

Guidance on the boundaries between environmental and other information (Feb 2009)

Guidance on using the ICO model publication scheme to disseminate environmental information (March 2009)

New Information Law blog

11KBW chambers has just launched a blog dealing with information law issues, including FOI - see http://www.panopticonblog.com/

The blog is maintained by 11KGW's Information Law Practice Group, led by Timothy Pitt-Payne and Anya Proops.

The blog links to a wide range of resources, including a detailed free guide to the Environmental Information Regulations - see http://www.11kbw.com/articles/list.php?aid=7

FOI Podcast No. 17

Episode 17 of Ibrahim Hasan's FOI Podcast has been published. This episode discusses:

• Requests for information in electronic form
• The first ministerial veto of a Tribunal decision
• Section 35 and the public interest test
• When statistics about properties can be personal data
• Correspondence between Princess Diana and the government
• Information about job applicants
• Disclosure of major IT contracts
• AND the first FOI appeal to the House of Lords

Listen here - http://www.informationlaw.org.uk/page10.htm

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

New FOI resources for voluntary sector in Scotland

Press release: 9 March 2009
New resources to support the voluntary sector in using Scotland's freedom of information (FOI) laws have been launched today [Monday 9 March] by the Scottish Information Commissioner. The resources include a web-portal for voluntary sector organisations with advice and guidance on how to make use of the FOI 'right to information', and an enquiry service providing one-to-one support. Information available includes advice on framing information requests to public authorities, as well as examples of the wide range of information that can be requested.

The new web-portal also features helpful examples of past use of FOI laws by voluntary organisations, which illustrate how FOI can be of real benefit to the sector. These examples include details of requests made by the NSPCC to access previously unpublished data on the number of recorded sex offences involving children, and information on a campaign by Inclusion Scotland to gather data from Scottish local authorities on the provision of accessible and affordable housing for people with disabilities.

The launch of the new resource coincides with the publication of the Scottish Information Commissioner's Annual Report for 2008. In the report, Commissioner Kevin Dunion sets out the key future priorities for his Office, including a three-year research partnership with the University of Strathclyde to explore the use of FOI by Scotland's voluntary sector.
Resources for the voluntary sector
The Commissioner's enquiry service is available on 01334 464610, or by email at enquiries@itspublicknowledge.info.

Scottish Information Commissioner publishes annual report

Press release: 9 March 2008
The Commissioner's Annual Report for 2008 reviews the performance of his office during 2008 and sets out the strategic direction for his second and final term of office. Since 2005, Mr Dunion has dealt with nearly 2,000 applications which have required over 750 formal decisions. At the end of 2008, the average age of cases closed during the year was 6.7 months, compared with 10 months a year earlier. Only 10% of cases were over 12 months old at the end of 2008, compared to 29% at the end of 2006.

Looking forward, the Commissioner's two main priorities are to ensure public authorities get compliance right first time, and to continue to press for safeguards to the public's right to information. During 2009, 10 public authorities will be audited for compliance with the Act, and the Commissioner will continue to pursue dialogue with the Scottish Government on designating a list of new bodies under the Act.
The Commissioner also called on Scottish public sector leaders to push the boundaries of openness:
Launching his Fifth Annual Report today, Scottish Information Commissioner Kevin Dunion applauded the intention of Scotland's Chief Constables to proactively publish their expenses, at a time when the subject of trust in government and public officials is rarely out of the news.

The majority of Scotland's police forces have already signed up to a 'model publication scheme' which includes detailed expenses for Chief Constables and Assistant Chief Constables. The new schemes will go live in June 2009.

Kevin Dunion believes there is a real need for public trust to be restored, and he calls for a new model of leadership in Scotland, where all our public leaders expect to be held to account.

See:
Annual Report 2008 (1.5Mb)
Annual Report 2008 - Key Facts (103k)
Link to case studies

English reverting to archaic FOI policies, claims Dunion - Sunday Herald, 10 March 2009

Department of Health must improve its management of records

ICO press release
9 March 2009
The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has issued a formal practice recommendation to the Department of Health regarding its record management practice. This follows a request by the ICO, and with the agreement of the Department, for the National Archives (TNA) to conduct an assessment of records management practice at the authority.
...
The assessment found that there are good central policies and guidance in place. However, much of the responsibility for day-to-day management of records has been devolved to local staff, leading to the development of local practices, some of which lack consistency across the Department. The recommendation concludes that senior managers must do more to ensure that good behaviours and practices are reinforced, especially in the face of organisational changes.
...
This is the second practice recommendation the ICO has issued to the Department of Health for failing to meet its requirements under the Freedom of Information Act. In April 2008 the Department was served a practice recommendation in relation to its handling of FOI requests.

The Information Commissioner recognises that the Department is already working to improve its records management practices and welcomes this approach. The ICO will continue to monitor the Department’s request handling and records management functions and with the support of TNA, will be assessing its progress against the recommendations.

View the practice recommendation.
view a copy of the National Archives assessment report.

Monday, March 02, 2009

FOI disclosure stories 23 February-1 March 2009

Police 'over the top' at climate camp - Guardian Unlimited 01/3/09
“Police have been accused of setting a "dangerous precedent" when they confiscated hundreds of items of property - including children's crayons, a clown's outfit and a pensioner's walking stick - from people attending an environmental protest camp at Kingsnorth power station. A list of more than 2,000 possessions taken from protesters, who were repeatedly searched going to and from the camp last August, has been obtained through a freedom of information request by Liberal Democrat justice spokesman David Howarth. It is the latest attack on what has been criticised as over-the-top policing of the Climate Camp near the site where the government is planning to allow the construction of a £1bn coal-fired power station by the energy firm E.on.”

Queen rents Diana’s flat to army for £108,000 a year
- The Times 28/2/09
“The Queen is earning more than £100,000 a year from the taxpayer by renting part of a royal apartment once used by Diana, Princess of Wales, to the head of the British Army.
Documents released under freedom of information rules reveal that the Ministry of Defence (MoD) is being charged an annual £108,408 by the monarch for accommodation in Kensington Palace used by General Sir Richard Dannatt, chief of the general staff… The disclosure comes as an army officer reveals in Soldier magazine that the families of some troops serving in Afghanistan were living in homes without heating and hot water throughout winter.”

Children left alone’ in refugee centre - The Sunday Times 28/2/09
“Some children are being left locked in rooms during the day in Mosney, the largest refugee centre in the country. An inspection report of the Co Meath facility, which houses about 800 asylum seekers, states that children were being left unattended during the day, with some locked in bedrooms for an unspecified period of time. Two inspectors from the Department of Justice visited the former holiday camp on December 2 and 4, 2008, and discovered several children had been left home alone. They found unattended minors in eight of the centre’s 285 apartments. Their inspection report was released under the Freedom of Information act.”

Civil servants attacked for using anti-terror laws to spy on public - Guardian 28/2/09
“Controversial surveillance powers employed to fight terrorism and combat crime have been misused by civil servants in undercover ‘spying’ operations that breach official guidelines, the Guardian has learned. Documents obtained under Freedom of Information show some government departments and agencies have used these powers incorrectly or without proper controls. They also show the official government watchdog set up to monitor the use of such clandestine techniques criticised the departments for their behaviour… The watchdog highlighted how: officials at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) did not have proper authorisation when they went undercover posing as anglers to glean information about imported fish; a manager responsible for authorising surveillance at the NHS anti-fraud agency routinely gave officials ‘carte blanche’ in surveillance operations; tracking devices were attached to vehicles in a bid to monitor the disposal of waste, after the Environment Agency received apparently incorrect advice from the Home Office; potential prosecutions were jeopardised because those conducting the surveillance operations were not properly trained and had not followed procedures..."

Minorities more likely to be scanned - BBC 27/2/09
“A disproportionate number of Asian and black people are being stopped by police and fingerprinted using a new mobile scanner, the BBC has learned. Of the 29,000 people stopped, 14% were Asian and 16.5% black despite those ethnic groups representing just 4% and 2% of the population respectively. The figures were revealed in a Freedom of Information request made by the BBC… Twenty police forces across Britain are trying out the new mobile fingerprint scanner, called the Lantern, with the aim of making on-the-spot identity checks easier and faster. Liberty said it was concerned the new scanner was another measure alienating ethnic minority communities.”

Policing is overpriced and underperforming
- politics.co.uk 26/2/09
“Britain has the world's most expensive police force, and it doesn't work according to a report released today. Think-tank Reform, authors of the report, said the 43 forces in England and Wales are run as "fiefdoms" by unaccountable chief constables who are exempt from freedom of information (FOI) requests. Meanwhile England and Wales have the highest per capita expenditure on policing in the developed world, apart from Scotland.”

UK's poor record on prosecuting hackers revealed
- ComputerWeekly 26/2/09
“Experts have called for more police resources to fight computer crime, after it emerged that only 299 hackers have been charged under the UK's computer crime law over the past four years. Computer Weekly has discovered that only 110 cases involving unauthorised access and virus writing reached magistrates courts across the country last year from November 2007 to October 2008, 59 cases reached court in the year to October 2007, while 49 cases were brought to court in the year to October 2006. The figures, obtained by CW under the Freedom Of Information Act, pale in comparison with the estimated amount of computer crime taking place… The DTI Information Security Breaches Survey showed that 96% of large companies suffered a security incident last year, and 13% of all companies detected unauthorised access on their networks. There were 144,500 cases of computer misuse in the UK in 2006, according to a survey by online identity firm Garlik. The study found a further six million virus incidents took place during the same period.”

7000 homes 'red flagged' by ambulance services - Telegraph.co.uk 25/2/09
“Figures under Freedom of Information legislation uncovered almost 7,500 addresses where ambulance staff required a police escort or are advised to exercise caution because of the potential of violence. Risks include people with a history of violence and aggression towards ambulance staff, addresses with dangerous animals or weapons and patients with psychiatric or alcohol-related conditions and mental health disorders. The Liberal Democrats say some parts of the country have hundreds of addresses that have been flagged - in the North West alone, more than 3,000 addresses are seen as at risk.”

Criminals applying for jobs in schools: Paedophiles among 7,000 trying to work with children
- The Daily Mail 24/2/09
“Almost 7,000 teachers with criminal convictions, some for paedophilia and manslaughter, applied to work in schools last year, startling figures showed yesterday. Candidates also included drug-dealers, kidnappers, child- beaters, brothelkeepers and flashers, according to figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act. Whitehall officials have admitted they do not know whether the criminals were taken on, as recruitment decisions are at the discretion of individual schools. The list of convictions was released by the Criminal Records Bureau, which gives prospective employers background information on applicants wishing to work with children or vulnerable adults.”

Regional

£1m spent on council temps in 9 months - South Wales Evening Post 01/3/09
“More than a million pounds has been shelled out for temporary workers at Swansea Council in just nine months. The authority paid two employment agencies £1,007,725 between April and December last year. The figures have emerged following a request from the Evening Post under the Freedom of Information Act… The total figure is just below three per cent of the council's annual employee costs.”

MP's fears over police numbers - Basingstoke Gazette 28/2/09
“The number of uniformed police officers in Basingstoke has fallen as the town sees ‘worrying increases in drug crime,’ according to Basingstoke MP Maria Miller. There were 190 uniformed officers and 22 police community support officers (PCSOs) at police stations in Basingstoke and Deane district on January 1 – down from 200 and 24 respectively on the same day in 2008, according to figures the MP obtained through a Freedom of Information request.”

One in seven inmates fail drug test
- Lincolnshire Echo 28/2/09
“Illegal drugs are still getting into Lincoln Prison – with one in seven prisoners failing routine testing. And this follows a clampdown and a subsequent reduction in the number of drugs brought into the men's prison in Greetwell Road. A request submitted to the Ministry of Justice by the Echo under the Freedom of Information Act revealed that 99 prisoners tested positive for drugs out of 514 routinely tested in 2007/8 – almost one in five.”

Croydon trams involved in 28 accidents in 2008 - Croydon Advertiser 27/2/09
“Trams were involved in 28 ‘accidents’ in Croydon last year the Advertiser has discovered. Documents obtained through a Freedom of Information request show that 15 people were injured in the incidents.”

Judkins Quarry waste plant plan cost council £21k - Coventry Telegraph 26/2/09
“Almost £21,000 was spent by Nuneaton and Bedworth Borough Council in dealing with the aborted plan to have a toxic waste plant at Judkins. Jayne Innes, Nuneaton’s prospective Parliamentary Labour candidate, has obtained the figures through a Freedom of Information request… The controversial move, by soil cleansing firm TCSR, had initally been approved by the county council last summer but sparked protests from residents and enviroment groups. It was withdrawn in November when site owners WRG cancelled their permission for it to go ahead.”

Application goes in despite review order
- The Cornishman 26/2/09
“The controversial plans to regenerate Penzance harbour have been submitted to Penwith District Council, despite the Department for Transport (DfT) ordering an independent review into the proposals. A Freedom of Information Act request revealed that the DfT has requested that a marine consultant is appointed to provide an independent review of the Route Partnership's proposed new vessel and associated shore side infrastructure… But despite the review uncompleted and the plans missing the deadline for the last Penwith District Council planning meeting taking place next month, the Route Partnership has filed three applications [including a full planning application].”

Foreign students missing from university - Gloucester Echo 26/2/09
“Up to 66 international students at the University of Gloucestershire have disappeared without telling the authorities. Figures released following an Echo Freedom of Information request revealed students from China, India, Russia and Africa have all abandoned courses at the university and dropped off the official radar since April 2005. Although university staff said the drop-outs could be for a number of reasons, officials at the UK Borders Agency said educational courses were often used as a backdoor to the UK by illegal immigrants.”

Taxpayers may not recoup damage bill - The Northern Echo 26/2/09
“Taxpayers may be unable to regain the £780,000 it cost to repair a damaged gas pipe after it emerged a council is not in legal talks over who should foot the bill. Information released to The Northern Echo following a request under the Freedom of Information Act revealed that Darlington Borough Council has spent an extra £32,000 on legal and engineering advice regarding who is liable for a 100-year-old pipe, which was damaged during town centre pedestrianisation works. The same request also revealed that the council is not in any legal talks, but the council said it is investigating the possibility… If no other party is found to be liable, it will be impossible to recover the public money spent.”

CCTV cameras issue over 3,000 parking tickets in three St John’s Wood streets
- Labour Matters 25/2/09
“CCTV cameras in three streets in St John’s Wood were responsible for over 3,000 parking tickets being issued to drivers in 2008, according to figures released by Westminster City Council following a Freedom of Information request by parking campaigner Paul Pearson.”

Taxpayers fork out thousands to pay for supply cover in schools
- Middlewich Guardian, Cheshire 25/2/09
“Taxpayers will be forking out thousands of pounds more because of teachers absent from Middlewich schools. Figures obtained by the Guardian under the Freedom of Information Act show the missing members of staff are costing £13,746 more than the previous year. Middlewich’s six schools accumulated 404 supply days in 2007, costing £80,847, which rose to 473 days and £94,593 in 2008. Over the two years, supply days in Middlewich have cost taxpayers a total of more than £175,000.”

Ashfield Homes Christmas bonus row - Mansfield Chad 25/2/09
“Bosses at Ashfield Homes received in excess of £50,000 in bonuses at Christmas and have come under fire from councillors who say that this money should be poured back public services. Using information obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, it has been revealed that 184 employees received performance-related bonuses of £300 each in December, bringing the total to £55,200 paid out to individuals.”

All Saints’ RC School fingerprint bill tops £25k York - Evening Press 24/2/09
“A fingerprint registration system cost a York school more than £25,000 to install – and could lead to breaches in pupil confidentiality, a civil liberties group claims. The revelation came after privacy campaigners used the Freedom of Information Act to quiz All Saints’ RC School about the system, which is used to speed up attendance registers and library withdrawals and cost the school £25,180 to install.”

Anger at councils' investments in arms firms - Lincolnshire Echo 24/2/09
“The levels of investment held by Lincolnshire councils in some of the world's largest arms companies has been branded ‘shocking’ by a leading campaign group. New figures released to the Echo under the Freedom of Information Act show the Lincolnshire County Council Local Government Pension scheme has almost £13.4 million invested in 13 major players in the global arms trade.”

Eight postal workers caught stealing - EveningNews24 24/2/09
“Eight postal workers were caught stealing mail in Norfolk last year - equalling the total of crooked Royal Mail workers for the previous three years combined. A Freedom Of Information request revealed the tally of shame, which saw five postal workers covering the NR postcode area prosecuted and two cautioned. One resigned before they could be dismissed. In 2007, four postal workers were caught stealing post and there were two in 2005 and 2006. In each case the employee was prosecuted.”

Scotland

Level of crime at Craiginches Prison is cause for concern
- The Press and Journal 27-2-09
“Police had to deal with more than 100 crimes committed inside Aberdeen’s closure-threatened Craiginches Prison last year, it has emerged. In addition to 50 drug offences and 20 assaults, prisoners were also found in possession of dangerous weapons, accused of starting fires and of committing acts of racist abuse. Figures revealed through the Freedom of Information Act have led to fresh fears that inmates are not being rehabilitated.”

Teachers sacked for child porn and theft – Edinburgh Evening News 23/2/09
“Dozens of teachers and support staff have been sacked or suspended from Lothian schools for reasons ranging from downloading child pornography to stealing, it can be revealed today. Around 30 have been disciplined in recent years, according to figures released by local authorities to the Evening News under freedom of information laws.”