Wednesday, April 29, 2009

"A shock to the system: Journalism, Government and the FOI Act"

Seminar : Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism : May 20th 2009, 5.00pm

“A SHOCK TO THE SYSTEM: Journalism , Government and the Freedom of Information Act 2000”

Jeremy Hayes of BBC Radio 4’s ‘The World Tonight’ presents a progress report on the Freedom of Information Act with Jon Ungoed-Thomas, Chief reporter, The Sunday Times and Steve Wood, Assistant Information Commissioner

Venue : RISJ , 13 Norham Gardens ,Oxford OX2 6PS . Open admission.

FOI disclosure stories 20 - 26 April 2009

Commonwealth cousins prop up British Army - The Times 25/04/09
“The British Army’s ‘foreign legion’ of soldiers recruited abroad to fill its ranks has expanded to more than one in 10 of all troops. Non UK nationals now number about 10,430, just less than 11% of the army’s full-time troops, excluding reserves, according to new figures released under the Freedom of Information Act… In all, the figures show that 38 foreign nationalities are represented in the army, nearly all from the Commonwealth. These do not include the 3,600-strong Brigade of Gurkhas, recruited in Nepal.”

2,800 crime gangs ravage UK streets - The Times 24/04/09
“Police have identified 2,800 organised criminal gangs, nearly three times the number previously acknowledged, and admit that British law enforcement is ill-equipped to deal with the threat that they pose. The Times has obtained an official report revealing the finding by intelligence analysts. It was completed six months ago but marked 'restricted' and circulated only to ministers and police chiefs. After a freedom of information request, it was made available this month in edited form. Issued by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary, it is the first time that officials have disclosed the true scale of the gangland threat and made the frank admission that they are struggling to cope with it.”

Taxpayer foots the bill for nuclear bonuses - The Times 21/04/09
“Public servants working in Britain's nuclear industry are being paid millions of pounds of taxpayer-funded bonuses every year, The Times has learnt. The response from the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA), the agency responsible for the clean-up of Britain's nuclear sites, shows that the organisation paid nearly £3.8 million in bonuses to its 315 staff last year. The average bonus was £11,954, with some regular, non-director level staff receiving £36,917 - up to 40 per cent of their salary. NDA directors received bonuses as high as £85,000.”

Regional
Infection risk - BBCi 25/04/09
“Two workers at a government laboratory scratched themselves with needles risking contamination with the H5N1 bird flu strain, it has been revealed. Both were treated with anti-viral drugs and subsequently tested negative. The incidents at the Veterinary Laboratories Agency (VLA) at Weybridge in Surrey came to light following a BBC Freedom of Information request. The VLA has reported 80 incidents over five years and continually reviews risk assessments and procedures.”

Most truckers transporting illegals are foreign - Kent News 24/04/09
“The UK Borders Agency admitted that of all the lorry drivers bringing in desperate migrants into the UK, 90 per cent are overseas drivers. The figures, revealed following a Freedom of Information request, showed 1,571 foreign truckers were fined an estimated £2million last year after clandestine migrants were found hiding in the back of their trucks.”

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Irish Information Commissioner publishes Annual Report 2008

The Irish Information Commissioner, Emily O'Reilly, has published her Annual Report for 2008. The report reveals that the overall number of FOI requests increased in Ireland in 2008 for the first time since 2005. The Commissioner also believes that FOI had a more obvious impact on public life than in recent years.
Level of requests to public bodies
Some 12,672 requests were made to public bodies under the FOI Act in 2008 . This is an increase of 18% over the 2007 figure (10,704) and 7% over 2006 (11,804) . It marks a most welcome reversal of the downward trend in request numbers, with the exception of 2005, since the introduction of fees for requests in the FOI Amendment Act of 2003 . While I am not aware of any specific reason driving this development, the number of high profile media stories emanating from records released under FOI during the second half of the year in particular may be a factor.

Impact of FOI in the Public Domain in 2008
I believe that 2008 was a year in which FOI had a more obvious impact on public life than has been the case in recent years . Particularly in the latter half of the year, scarcely a day went by without media stories referencing the results of FOI requests. While some might pay lip service to the ideals of openness and transparency, there were times during 2008 when we saw FOI make a significant impact . Unfortunately much of what was revealed did not show public bodies in a positive light . That, in itself, is evidence that FOI is working . The fact that release of, for example, the travel costs incurred by executives in FÁS, the State Training and Employment Authority would embarrass the individuals involved is not a reason that justifies withholding the information under the FOI Act . The debate around the release of the records and the repercussions for some of the people involved proves yet again that FOI is, indeed, a necessary part of the democratic process.

As economic difficulties became more apparent, I noticed what I believe is a more targeted approach by the media and various interest groups in regard to FOI usage.

Annual Report of Information Commissioner 2008 - 2.9mb Pdf format
Accompanying news release

Petition to make academies subject to FOI

A petition on the Number 10 website calls for the Prime Minister to make academy schools subject to the Freedom of Information Act.

John Cross, the petition creator, states:
"Academies are all-ability, state-funded schools" according to the department for children, schools and families. Unlike most state-funded schools they are not subject to the Freedom of Information Act 2000.

This makes academies unusual in that they get to spend large amounts of public money with very little public accountability.

Publicly funded Further Education Colleges, Higher Education Colleges and Universities and most state-funded schools are all to the Freedom of Information Act there is no reason why academies should be any different.
The Ministry of Justice's consultation paper on on the designation of additional public authorities, which closed on 1 Feb 2008 but is still awaiting a Government response, said:
"There may be greater public interest in bringing within the ambit of FOI organisations providing services which, in many or most other areas of the country, are provided by public authorities already covered by the Act. If most parents are able to obtain access to information under the FOI Act from their children's school, for example, it may be regarded as anomalous that some cannot.
You can sign the petition here until 6 December 2009.

Northumbria University Centre for Information Rights Law seminar

An Update of Recent Decisions of the Information Commissioner and Tribunal

Wednesday 6 May 2009 from 12.30 – 4.00 pm, including lunch

This seminar is being hosted by the Northumbria University Centre for Information Rights Law and Practice. The focus of the session is to provide practitioners and academics with a detailed look at some of the most interesting decisions coming from the Information Commissioner, the Information Tribunal and the courts over the last 12 months.

If you require further information or wish to attend this seminar please contact Maureen Cooke at maureen.cooke@northumbria.ac.uk or telephone 0191 243 7597.

Fees: £40.00
Venue: Northumbria University, Room 007, City Campus East, Newcastle upon Tyne

Centre for FOI forthcoming lecture by Kevin Dunion

FINAL SEMINAR IN SPRING SERIES

Friday 5 June (previously advertised for Thursday 28 May)

14:00 – 16:00
Dalhousie Building (2G11, Lecture Theatre 4)
University of Dundee

Lecture: “Reflected Glory? How does Scotland stand in the world of FOI?”
Kevin Dunion, Scottish Information Commissioner

Respondent: “How does Slovenia stand in the world of FOI?”
Natasa Pirc, Slovenian Information Commissioner

Debate chaired by Rosalind McInnes, Principal Solicitor, BBC Scotland

http://www.centrefoi.org.uk/seminars.htm

Friday, April 24, 2009

MoJ releases sites considered for "Titan" prisons

Following a decision by the Information Commissioner issued on 19 March 2009, the Ministry of Justice today (24 April) released a list of locations that were considered as sites for the introduction of 'Titan" prisons in 2008.

List of sites considered for 'Titan' prisons as at 20 May 2008 (PDF 0.06mb 3 pages)

Reports in today's newspapers suggest that the Government has now scrapped plans to build three new super-prisons. Super-jails are first to feel squeeze from Whitehall, The Independent 24 April 2009.

The work of the Information Commissioner: Govt response to the Justice Cttee

The Justice Committee has published the Government's response to its report on the work of the Information Commissioner: appointment of a new Commissioner. The response comments on the Committeee's recommendation about the backlog of freedom of information cases.
2. We recommend that the Ministry of Justice takes the appropriate steps to ensure that there are sufficient resources available to the Information Commissioner to enable the backlog of freedom of information cases to be resolved within a reasonable timescale. (Paragraph 36)

The Government notes the Committee's recommendation.

The Ministry of Justice and the Information Commissioner regularly review the level of funding made available to the Commissioner to discharge his statutory freedom of information responsibilities. In response to business cases provided by the Information Commissioner, he has been provided with grant in aid over and above the baseline fixed for each of the last four financial years, including the current one. In the current financial year, additional funding has been complemented by a secondment scheme. Seven civil servants paid by their parent departments are currently working for the Information Commissioner's Office on the backlog of freedom of information cases

The Government agrees that it is unsatisfactory to the complainant and inefficient for the public authorities involved if complaints remain outstanding at the Information Commissioner's Office for significant periods of time. In agreeing the level of grant in aid for 2009-10, additional funding has been identified although the baseline will remain the same. The additional funding will be made specifically to reduce the outstanding backlog of cases.
Minutes of the ICO Executive Team meeting on 23 March 2009 confirm that £500k of the grant in aid for freedom of information work from the MoJ was dependent on actions to clear the backlog.

The work of the Information Commissioner: appointment of a new Commissioner: Government Response to the Committee's Third Report of Session 2008-09

Thursday, April 23, 2009

FOI statistics Oct-Dec 2008

The quarterly statistics bulletin on the handling of requests by central government bodies in the period October to December 2008 has been published.
Executive summary

Departments of State reported receiving 4,818 “non-routine” information requests during the fourth quarter of 2008 (Q4). Other monitored bodies received 3,946 requests. Across all monitored bodies, a total of 8,764 requests were received, of which 90 per cent had been processed at the time of monitoring. This includes 144 requests handled under the amended Environmental Information Regulations (EIRs) which came into force on 1 January 2005. [see Table 1]

The 8,764 requests across all monitored bodies received in the fourth quarter of 2008 is 12 per cent greater than the 7,804 received during the corresponding quarter of 2007. [see Table A]

During Q4 of 2008, 87 per cent of all monitored bodies’ requests (excluding those “on hold” or lapsed) were “in time”, in that they were processed within the statutory deadline* or were subject to a permitted deadline extension. This figure is slightly lower than in the previous quarter and in the corresponding quarter of 2007. [see Table 2 and Table B]

Of all “resolvable” requests received during Q4 of 2008 (i.e. requests where it was possible to make a substantive decision on whether to release the information being sought), 57 per cent were granted in full, the same percentage as in the previous quarter. [see Table 3 and Table C]
According to the figures, the Ministry of Justice answered only 51% of requests within the 20 working day deadline. It did, however, only extend the deadline to consider the public interest test on 6 occasions (out of 670 resolvable requests), which may be a response to the Practice Recommendation issued by the ICO in March 2008 which found that NOMS (part of the MoJ) appeared to be extending the time for considering the public interest test as a matter of course.

Quarterly statistics: October to December 2008 (Pdf 0.49 mb 40 pages)

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

FOI disclosure stories April 13 - 19

What recession? Councils offer 'bizarre non-jobs' including roller disco coach and toothbrush adviser for infants - The Daily Mail 19/04/09
“A roller disco coach, a part-time toothbrush adviser for infants and a ceremonial sword bearer are just some of the 'non-jobs' offered by councils across Britain. Other roles which have come under criticism from the Taxpayer's Alliance include trampoline coaches, skate park attendants, flower arrangers, a 'befriending co-ordinator'; and a 'street football co-ordinator', which pays £19,000-a-year.”

U.K. Government Free to Lend RBS, Lloyds Stock to Short-Sellers
– Bloomberg 17/04/09
“U.K. Financial Investments Ltd., which oversees the government’s shareholdings in banks, is allowed to lend out the stock to short-sellers, who were only months ago attacked by politicians for destabilizing the banks. UKFI, which owns 70 percent of Royal Bank of Scotland Plc and has a 43 percent holding in Lloyds Banking Group Plc, legally may loan stock, according to information obtained by Bloomberg News under a Freedom of Information Act request. UKFI said it hasn’t so far loaned any of its shares, and has no current plans to do so.”

Superbug payments under spotlight - Channel 4 16/04/09
“Millions of pounds were paid out in patient compensation claims involving allegations about hospital superbugs in the past five years, Channel 4 News online has found. The payout figures, obtained from the NHS under freedom of information (FoI) laws, reveal the number of settlements made to victims when MRSA or C. diff allegations were included as part of their overall claim for compensation for injury.”

‘Revolving door’ for pupils who misbehave - The Times 14/04/09
“The number of pupils suspended more than ten times a year has almost tripled in the past four years. Figures indicate that there is now a “revolving door” for the worst behaved, who bounce in and out of school instead of being expelled. Last year at least 867 pupils were suspended more than ten times each, compared with 310 in 2003-04. The figures, obtained by the Tories under the Freedom of Information Act, from 125 out of 152 councils asked, suggest that up to 1,000 pupils were suspended more than ten times last year.”

Green Party calls for better dentistry services - Health Service Journal 14/04/09
“Access to NHS dentistry is down to ‘geographical accident’, the Green Party has claimed. In a report, A Green New Deal for the NHS, due to be published this Friday, it claims between 55 and 60 per cent of NHS practices are not taking on new NHS patients. Using responses to freedom of information requests, the party said some primary care trusts have no practices that are taking on new patients in their patch and access to NHS dentists varies between one and 0.25 dentists per 1,000 people.”

Overworking blamed for NHS errors – Daily Mirror 13/04/09
“Patient safety is being put at risk by overworked NHS medical staff, it has been claimed.
They made 4,000 ‘avoidable’ errors last year, according to figures obtained by the Daily Mirror. More than half of the blunders - 2,221 - were considered serious, resulting in deaths, injuries and patients being left in severe pain... The newspaper submitted Freedom of Information requests to all 172 NHS trusts to obtain details of Serious Untoward Incidents (SUIs).”

Child trafficking into Britain accelerating, figures show – Guardian 14/04/09
“Suspected victims of child trafficking from Asia, Africa and the Middle East are being smuggled through Britain's leading ports and airports at an accelerating rate, new figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act reveal. A total of 957 children, including more than 400 from Afghanistan and 200 from Africa, were picked up by local authorities in the eight months between April 2008 and the end of the year. The figures, obtained by the Guardian, represent a 90% increase compared to the annual rate of arrivals over the previous three years.”

Financial Services Authority shuts record number of rogue advisers
- The Times 14/04/09
“The City watchdog has banned a record number of firms that sell mortgages, pensions, investments and insurance. As the economic crisis deepened and regulators clamped down on rogue businesses, the number of financial firms forbidden to practise by the Financial Services Authority rose by more than 50 per cent in the past year. Using the Freedom of Information Act, The Times discovered that 107 firms were banned, of which one third were mortgage advisers. Many were guilty of mortgage fraud and had shown no compunction in inflating their own incomes and those of their clients.”

Regional

Birmingham hospital paid spin doctors £16k for just 20 days' work - Birmingham Post 19/04/09
“A Birmingham hospital spent £16,000 to pay a PR company for just 20 days work to handle the fallout from a damning report. Birmingham Children’s Hospital chiefs paid two senior media consultants from LTA Communications £16,387 to protect the honour of the trust when faced with heavy criticism in a Healthcare Commission report a month ago. The money mirrors the annual salary of a junior nurse.”

MoD pays out £1m over frightened cattle - Belfast Telegraph 17/04/09
“The Ministry of Defence has paid out over £1 million to Northern Ireland farmers whose animals were frightened by low-flying aircraft in the last five years. Noise from attack aircraft and helicopters on training missions led to hundreds of claims from owners of horses, cattle and even hens, the MoD revealed. The statistics were released after a Freedom of Information request and follow concerns about activity by low flying aircraft in the Mid-Ulster area recently.”

Analysis of UK Defence FOIA data

Preliminary Analysis of Data Relating to the Processing of Freedom of Information Act Requests Received by the UK Ministry of Defence

Alasdair S. Roberts
Suffolk University Law School

April 17, 2009

Abstract: This research note provides a preliminary analysis of data relating to the processing of 15,627 Freedom of Information Act requests received by the UK Ministry of Defence between January 1, 2005 and December 31, 2008. It includes a description of trends in the volume of requests by applicant type, the categorization and disposition of requests, and time required to respond to requests. The main aim is to provide researchers with an intimation of what might be done with data that is collected within departments' FOIA management systems, and released under FOIA. This is a draft and comments are welcomed. The data used in this analysis may be
obtained from the author.

http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1390707

FOI disclosure stories April 6 - 12

Heath ordered MI5 to watch school rebels - The Times 12/04/09
“Confidential police and Whitehall papers released under the Freedom of Information Act show the official concern at the rise of subversive pupil groups in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Thousands of boys and girls were recruited to the movement, leading to classroom strikes and violent protests. The Schools’ Action Union and the National Union of School Students appeared to threaten the British way of life, demanding an end to corporal punishment, the introduction of free dinners and, for the over-16s, contraception. Having seen left-wing students bring down the French Government, the Prime Minister, Edward Heath, was taking no risks and ordered MI5 to monitor the revolutionaries, who included boys from Eton and Harrow.”

Obese patients increasing costs for NHS trusts – Press Association 09/04/09
“Figures show that one in six NHS trusts have spent seven times more on obesity in the past three years as the demand for specialist equipment has increased.
 According to data obtained from 60 PCTs under the Freedom of Information Act, obese patients having stomach surgery and the need for larger examination beds have caused costs for PCTs to rocket.”

Chaplains costing NHS £32m - Telegraph.co.uk 08/04/09
“Data obtained under the Freedom of Information Act found that NHS trusts across the UK were spending millions of pounds every year on religious services for patients. The NSS [National Secular Society] said the cash could better fund around 1,300 nurses or more than 2,500 cleaning staff, both of which were ‘much needed’.The organisation contacted acute and mental health trusts across the UK and received full responses from 233 trusts. Overall, trusts spent £26.72 million a year on paying clergy staff, with an average spend per chaplain of £48,953.”

See An investigation into the cost of the National Health Service's Chaplaincy provision, National Secular Society

One million bank customers in limbo - The Times 07/04/09
“Nearly one million bank customers have had their claims for the return of sky-high bank charges put on hold since July 2007, according to figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act. Statistics from the Financial Services Authority (FSA) reveal that nearly 973,000 complaints have been frozen by banks and building societies, since the start of the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) test case on bank charges.”

Speaker had £150k jollies
- Daily and Sunday Express 07/04/09
“Commons Speaker Michael Martin was embroiled in a new expenses row last night over a string of jaunts to exotic destinations that cost taxpayers nearly £150,000. Documents released under Freedom of Information laws showed that the 63-year-old Glasgow North East MP and his wife Mary visited Hawaii, the Bahamas, New York and Rome. On every trip except one Mr Martin travelled first class or business class and clocked up more than 105,000 miles in 16 trips.”

Councils dish out £63m in bonuses - Channel 4 06/04/09
“More4 News obtains detailed figures on how much different councils paid in bonuses, by using the Freedom of Information Act. Local authorities spent more than £60m on bonuses for staff last year, with recipients ranging from electricians to executives… More4 News surveyed 325 council under the Freedom of Information act, and received 280 replies.” (This story compiles the top 20 individual bonuses paid, the top 20 total bonuses paid by individual councils and the full list of 100 councils that paid bonuses)

Health officials will reject requests to delete e-records on...
- ComputerWeekly 06/04/09
“The Department of Health says it cannot delete patient records on the Summary Care Records (SCRs) service once uploaded, because the cost would be prohibitive. Its reply to GP Neil Bhatia under the Freedom of Information Act means that even if patients change their minds about their summary health records being uploaded to a central database, their details will not be permanently removed.”

Regional

Valleys top anti-depressant table – BBC 07/04/09
“More anti-depressant drugs are being prescribed to patients in the south Wales valleys than anywhere else in England and Wales, new figures show. Seven of the ‘top 10’ areas for the drugs were in Wales, and the highest was Torfaen, with 104 prescriptions per 1,000 patients in January.”

120 Hampshire health bosses get redundancy settlements averaging £69,500 – Southern Daily Echo 06/04/09
“More than £8m of taxpayers’ money was spent on redundancies in a massive shake-up of health services across Hampshire, the Daily Echo can reveal. Around 120 senior managers took golden handshakes when seven primary care trusts were merged into one. One took as much as £130,000 to leave the NHS… That would be enough to pay for 1,091 heart bypasses, or 1,097 hip replacements, or 1,137 knee replacements, or 7,765 varicose vein procedures.”

Scotland

Wind farm inquiry costs revealed - BBCi 10/04/09
“Wind farm public inquiries across the country have cost the Scottish Government a total of almost £70,000 over the last five years. The figures, obtained via a Freedom of Information request, include only money spent on venues and advertising. The most expensive event to be held was a conjoined hearing into four plans in Perth and Kinross which cost £17,515.”

Thursday, April 16, 2009

How to make a freedom of information request

The Information Commissioner's Office has published new guidance on how to make a request for information.

http://www.ico.gov.uk/upload/documents/library/freedom_of_information/practical_application/fop100_how_to_make_a_request_v1.pdf (Version 1, 14 April 2009)

Channel 4 Dispatches: The Westminster Gravy Train

Sunday 19 April 2009 19:00 Channel 4
In May 2008, freedom-of-information campaigner Heather Brooke won a court battle that should have prompted the release of all politicians' expense claims. A year later, with those expenses still to be published and the flow of leaked information ever increasing, Heather studies the information that is available to piece together a forensic insight into how public money is being spent.

As well as a series of apparent inconsistencies and hard-to-explain expense claims, Dispatches investigates the controversial role of patronage and lobbying in both the House of Commons and the House of Lords - to what extent can this serve personal rather than public interests?

The programme also shows the damage that has been caused by protracted delays in releasing MPs full expenses, and asks how harmful these claims may be to the reputation of Parliament and its members.
http://www.channel4.com/programmes/dispatches/episode-guide/series-12/episode-1

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

FOI disclosure stories March 23 - April 5

Council plumber paid £22,000 bonus - The Times 04/04/09
“Taxpayers have footed the bill for more than £60m of council bonuses to staff ranging from chief executives to manual labourers including plumbers, gardeners and binmen. Under a Freedom of Information Act request, it was disclosed that two of the biggest recipients include an electrician at Derby council paid £25,000 in bonuses and a plumber at Kirklees council, West Yorkshire, who received £22,000, more than doubling his £20,000 salary.”

The 200mph train, a snip at £39bn - The Times 04/04/09
“Lord Adonis, the transport minister, is studying plans for a £39 billion high-speed rail network that could see 200mph, French-style TGV trains almost halving journey times between London, northern England and Scotland. The trains would cut journey times to Manchester to one hour 22 minutes and Glasgow to two hours 42 minutes. Double-deck models carrying up to 545 people will be used to relieve congestion on the busiest parts of the network. The plans being considered by Adonis are detailed in seven reports released under the Freedom of Information Act.”

Was Gerry Adams complicit over hunger strikers?
- The Times 04/04/09
“Papers suggest IRA snubbed a conciliatory offer from Margaret Thatcher to ensure Sinn Fein by-election win to Westminster… They [papers released to The Sunday Times under the Freedom of Information Act] reveal that in July 1981, halfway through the hunger strike that claimed 10 lives, Thatcher not only authorised secret communications with the IRA, she was also willing to offer prisoners the right to wear their own clothes and agree to other key demands in defiance of her previous policy… In a statement released to The Sunday Times, the Irish Republican Socialist party, the INLA’s political wing, said: ‘Both the then INLA army council and the INLA prisoners’ OC have stated that if they had been made aware of the content of these developments at that time, they would have ordered the INLA prisoners to end their hunger strike.’”

Whitehall demanded BAA probe - The Times 04/04/09
“Whitehall officials asked Merrill Lynch, the investment bank, to investigate the ‘robustness’ of BAA’s finances before Christmas after a slump in the the airport operator’s bonds. The Merrill Lynch report, revealed in papers released to The Sunday Times under the Freedom of Information Act, also covered Ferrovial, the Spanish group that is BAA’s controlling shareholder… Disclosure of official concern over BAA’s finances will add to City fears over the company and increase speculation that it may need to raise fresh debt or equity. Some transport experts believe the group may struggle with the billions in capital spending that are planned for Heathrow, including funds for a controversial third runway.”

Parents of children with autism face postcode lottery - 24dash.com 03/04/09
“Parents of children with autism face a postcode lottery when it comes to the quality of services available to their child, according to new research from TreeHouse (www.treehouse.org.uk), the national charity for autism education. A Freedom of Information request revealed that the average age of diagnosis ranges massively depending on where you live, from under 3 years old in some areas to as old as 7 years in others. Experts agree that diagnosis before 3 years is vital in giving children access to the right education early, which can make a dramatic difference to a child realising their potential. Forty per cent of local authorities had no information at all on the average diagnosis age in their area.”

The £40m Beeb boob
- The Sun 02/04/09
“The BBC is still spending obscene amounts on hotels and flights despite pleading poverty and sacking hundreds of staff, The Sun can reveal. Bosses blew £40million on rooms and air travel last year — when it also fired 600 workers. More than £24.5million went on hotels and £15million on flights, figures obtained under the Freedom of Information act revealed… It has sacked 7,200 staff in four years, frozen wages and axed bonuses in a bid to save £2billion by 2013.”

Migrants 'twice as likely to be killed at work' - Personnel Today 01/04/09
“Migrant workers employed in the construction industry are twice as likely to die at work compared to their British counterparts, a report has found. A freedom of information request to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) revealed that 12 migrant workers died in the construction industry in 2007-08 - representing 17% of total fatalities in the sector, despite migrants only making up 8% of the workforce. The research carried out by the Centre for Corporate Accountability (CCA), in association with employment law firm Irwin Mitchell, found the deaths represented a six-fold increase in the number who died at work in 2002-03."

Government axes promise of extra train carriages - The Times 29/03/09
“Overcrowding will worsen on several of Britain's busiest rail lines because the Government has quietly cancelled plans for more than 300 additional carriages... The Government will save about £70 million a year from the decision, which reverses a commitment in the rail White Paper published in July 2007. The network's most overcrowded trains have more than 70 people standing for every 100 sitting, according to Department for Transport figures released under the Freedom of Information Act.”

Councils used spy powers 10,000 times
- The Times 26/03/09
“Surveillance powers originally designed to counter the threat of terrorism and safeguard national security have been used by local councils more than 10,000 times over the past five years - often for “crimes” as minor as littering, it emerged today. Details disclosed under the Freedom of Information Act...The findings are based on a survey of 182 district and unitary councils in England and Wales which responded to a Freedom of Information request from the Lib Dems... The survey showed that Ripa powers have been used on 10,288 occasions since 2004, although just 9 per cent of those inquiries led to a successful prosecution, caution, or fixed penalty notice.”

Number of students achieving three A-grade A-levels double in a decade - The Daily Mail 24/03/09
“The number of sixth-formers gaining three As in their A-levels has doubled in a decade, according to figures published yesterday. Just days after Cambridge University announced that a hat-trick of As was no longer enough to win a place, it emerged that one in eight students are now achieving the feat. Last year, 12.1 per cent of students achieved a trio of As - more than 31,000 - against just 6.1 per cent when Labour took office in 1997, according to figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act."

More than a quarter of England’s primary schools have no male teachers
– Telegraph.co.uk 23/03/09
“The figures are despite a multi-million pound Government campaign to encourage men back into what is now seen as a "feminine" career. Men also tend to shun working with younger children over fears they will be accused of paedophilia, but experts say it is vital for boys – many of whom do not have a father present at home – to have positive male role models as they grow up… The figures, released under the Freedom of Information Act, show that more than a quarter of all the 17,357 primary schools in England do not have a single male teacher.”

Judgement call - BBC 23/03/09
“… the BBC has learned that in the last two years the number of hung juries - where no verdict is reached - has more than doubled. Figures obtained from Her Majesty's Courts Service under a Freedom of Information request show that in 2006 there were 52 hung juries in England and Wales. In 2007, that figure had risen by a third to 68. Yet last year, there were 116 hung juries - an increase of 70 per cent, and more than double the figure just two years previously… with the broadly accepted figure of a crown court trial costing up to £80,000 per day, this still means that hung juries cost the taxpayer nearly £30m last year - and that does not include the cost of any retrial.”

Regional

Anger as 20,000 meals thrown out by Southern Trust
- Tyrone Times 31/03/09
“Hospitals in the Southern Trust area threw out almost 20,000 untouched patient meals last year, new figures have revealed. Documents released by the Trust reveal how 55 meals were wasted on average every day, costing the Trust tens of thousands of pounds. The figures were disclosed to this newspaper after a Freedom of Information request and follow reports in recent months that health trusts are facing increased financial pressure."

Metric Martyrs uncover MEP’s peppercorn rent - The Northern Echo 23/03/09
“An MEP is facing a rent rise after Eurosceptic campaigners discovered he has been paying a peppercorn rent for his office for at least 18 years. Labour MEP Stephen Hughes is paying Durham County Council £1,642 for his constituency office in County Hall, Durham City, which is inclusive of furniture, heating and electricity. In 1991, the rent on Mr Hughes’ office was set at £1,000-a-year by the land and property sub-committee of the Labour-run authority, with an inflationary increase every year, but it has not been reviewed since.”

Scotland

‘Patient care could be hit by new target’ - The Press and Journal 01/04/09
“Patient care will suffer if NHS Grampian is to meet a new summer target limiting the amount of time junior doctors work, it was claimed last night. Figures released under freedom of information legislation show that just a third of junior doctors work 48 hours a week as will be required under the European working time directive come August… Figures obtained by the Labour Party show Grampian is just 34% compliant with the new hours – the worst in Scotland. The current working time limit is 56 hours.”

Michelin restaurants failed food-hygiene inspections - The Times 29/03/09
“Some of Scotland’s leading restaurants have failed to meet basic food hygiene standards, according to the latest inspection reports. Award-winning establishments across the country were found to have breached food hygiene regulations and ordered to improve their cleansing practices during official visits last year and in 2007. Failures noted in the food safety reports, obtained by The Sunday Times under freedom of information legislation, included evidence of insects, mice and dirty, crumbling kitchens.”

Police child welfare shock - Dundee Evening Telegraph 27/03/09
“Around 10 children every day in Tayside are referred to social workers by police concerned for their welfare, shock new figures have revealed. Officers across the three force areas — Dundee, Angus and Perth and Kinross — filled out in excess of 6000 child concern reports in the period between January 2007 and August of last year… A child concern report can be completed by any police officer that attends an incident and believes a child to be at risk.”

Monday, April 06, 2009

Greater Manchester Police criticised for FOI handling

ICO press release
6 April 2009
The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has ordered Greater Manchester Police to improve its handling of internal reviews after a catalogue of failings by the authority.

The ICO has issued a practice recommendation to Greater Manchester Police for failing, on various occasions, to respond to internal reviews within the recommended timescales. Prior to serving this practice recommendation, the ICO made numerous attempts to offer advice and guidance to the authority, in the hope that the matter could be resolved without the need for further intervention.

Assistant Information Commissioner, Gerrard Tracey, said: “In one particular case, Greater Manchester Police failed to respond to an internal review for over 150 working days. This, coupled with the authority’s lack of engagement when the ICO provided advice and guidance, highlights the poor practice in its handling of internal reviews.

“The ICO will continue to monitor Greater Manchester Police’s freedom of information procedures and performance and will assess its progress against the ICO’s recommendations in six months.”

Failure to comply with the practice recommendation may lead to an Enforcement Notice being served or an adverse comment in a report to Parliament by the ICO.
View a copy of the practice recommendation

Friday, April 03, 2009

ICO to check public authorities' publication schemes

Press release
3 April 2009
The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has begun monitoring public authorities to ensure they are complying with the model publication scheme, which came into effect on 1 January 2009, under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

Under the Act, authorities must adopt a publication scheme so that people can easily identify the types of information that will be routinely disclosed. The model scheme also reduces administration for public authorities and helps transparency. From today the ICO will check websites to ensure that the scheme is being adhered to.
...
Assistant Information Commissioner, Gerrard Tracey said: “The vast majority of public authorities take their freedom of information responsibilities seriously and this new approach will support those who do. Unfortunately some do not, and in cases of systemic non-compliance we will use the powers available to us, which include enforcement action, to insist on adherence to the requirements of the Act.”

The ICO will initially contact authorities to highlight areas of non-compliance and work with them to seek an informal resolution. The ICO takes a responsible approach to enforcement action and this will be considered after serious or repeated non-compliance, failure to adopt a publication scheme or to make information available in accordance with it.
Full press release.

New and updated FOI guidance from the ICO

The Information Commissioner's Office has published a lot of guidance in the last few months, some new and some updating previous guidance. Below is a list of all the guidance issued recently with the date of publication and version number.

Procedural guidance


Internal reviews (Version 1, 16 Feb 09)

Information held: retrieving and compiling information from original sources (Version 1, 10 Feb 09)

Interpreting a request (Version 1, 19 Jan 09)

Valid request – name and address for correspondence (Version 1, 09 Jan 09)

Good practice in providing advice and assistance (Version 1, 17 Dec 08)

Vexatious requests – a short guide (Version 1, 3 Dec 08)

Vexatious or repeated requests (Version 4, 3 Dec 08)


Topic specific guidance

Reports provided by third parties (Version 1, 23 March 2009)

Circular (or round robin) requests (Version 1, 13 March 2009)

Information contained in court transcripts (Version 1, 10 Feb 2009)

When should salaries be disclosed (Version 1, 23 Feb 2009)

Exemptions guidance

Section 40 Update note: Applying the exemption for third party personal data: the Tribunal’s approach in House of Commons v IC & Leapman, Brooke and Thomas (version 1, 19 Jan 09)

The exemption for personal information (version 3, 11 Nov 08)

The duty of confidence and the public interest (version 1, 17 Nov 08)

Information provided in confidence relating to contracts
(version 1, 24 Oct 08)

Commercial detriment of third parties (version 1, 24 Oct 08)


EIR guidance

Charging for environmental information (Version 1, 26 Jan 2009)

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Review of Scottish FOI Code of Practice on Records Management

During 2009 the Scottish Government will be reviewing the three Codes of Practice associated with the FOI (Scotland) Act and Enviornmental Information (Scotland) Regulations, in order to update and revise them.

The Scottish Government is now inviting comments on the Section 61 Code on Records Management and has published this survey. Responses should be sent by Friday 15th May to foi@scotland.gsi.gov.uk or by post to:

Freedom of Information Unit
G-A North
Victoria Quay
EDINBURGH
EH6 6QQ