Thursday, May 28, 2009

BBC R4 The Report on FOI and MPs' expenses

28 May 2009 20:00 on BBC Radio 4:
Simon Cox gets behind the headlines engulfing MPs about their expenses and explores how the system of allowances was allowed to get out of control. The programme charts the origin of the row back to the enactment of freedom of information laws and reveals how proposed changes, which could have averted the crisis, were repeatedly thwarted by MPs themselves.
Well worth listening to. Simon Cox speaks to Sam Coates of The Times and John Stoneborough, the former media adviser to the Speaker and House of Commons Commission, who says "there was total horror at the idea of FOI".

Listen to the programme again or download the podcast here -
http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00jkr1q

See also:
Michael Martin was put under 'severe pressure' to fight expenses case, Guardian 28/5/09

Obama orders review of government secrecy

Associated Press
28 May 2009
Expanding his drive to open government, President Obama is ordering two studies of whether the government is classifying too much information and using too many different ways to keep it from public view.

He wants the answers in just 90 days, and it's no secret which way he's leaning.

In a memo Wednesday, Mr. Obama ordered national security adviser James L. Jones to consult relevant agencies and recommend revisions in the existing presidential order on national security classification that lays out the rules under which agencies can stamp documents "confidential," "secret" or "top secret."

That same memo also ordered Attorney General Eric Holder and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to set up a governmentwide task force on standardizing so-called controlled but unclassified information. This is data with stamps like "for official use only" or "limited official distribution" that are not authorized by the executive order but have grown up over the years to keep sensitive data from the public even if it doesn't meet standards for national security classification.

Mr. Obama noted that there are now 107 different stamps for such data, also known as "sensitive but unclassified" information, and 130 different procedures for applying those stamps. He said a 2008 order by former President George W. Bush had "a salutary effect" in establishing a framework to begin standardizing these designations for sensitive terrorism-related data, but he asked the task force to recommend whether that work should be expanded to cover all sensitive but unclassified information governmentwide.

The tone of the memo suggested Obama thought a governmentwide effort would be a good idea. Mr. Obama also directed this group to study the procedures for handling sensitive but unclassified data to be sure that "information is not restricted unless there is a compelling need."

While Mr. Obama didn't order any changes in government secrecy Wednesday, his memo contained language and set agendas for the two studies that hinted strongly at moves he might take. It was greeted with cheers from open government advocates who have long argued that government classifies too much information.

Echoing language he used earlier to open more government information to the public under the Freedom of Information Act, Mr. Obama said "a democratic government must be as transparent as possible and must not withhold information for self-serving reasons or simply to avoid embarrassment."
http://hosted.ap.org/dynamic/stories/U/US_OBAMA_SECRETS?SITE=AP&SECTION=HOME&TEMPLATE=DEFAULT&CTIME=2009-05-27-18-41-26

David Cameron on transparency and opening up politics

David Cameron speech on Fixing Broken Politics
Tuesday, May 26 2009
TRANSPARENCY

Everything I've spoken about - redistributing power to people, re-instating accountability in our politics...all of it will, I hope, help get more people involved in politics and public policy and help end that despairing sense of powerlessness that pervades our society.

But there's one more item on the agenda: transparency.

Ask most people where politics happens and they'd paint a picture of tight-knit tribes making important decisions in wood-panelled rooms, speaking a strange language.

If we want people to have faith and get involved, we need to defeat this impression by opening politics up - making everything transparent, accessible - and human.

And the starting point for reform should be a near-total transparency of the political and governing elite, so people can see what is being done in their name.

EXPENSES AND SPENDING

First because transparency tears down the hiding places for sleaze, over-spending and corruption.

Soon enough all MPs' expenses are going to be published online for everyone to see...I and the rest of the Shadow Cabinet are already doing it.

And if we win the next election, we're going to do the same thing for all other public servants earning over £150,000.

Just imagine the effect that an army of armchair auditors is going to have on those expense claims.

Indeed, the promise of public scrutiny is going to have a powerful effect on over-spending of any variety.

A Conservative Government will put all national spending over £25,000 online for everyone to see, so citizens can hold the Government to account for how their tax money is being spent.

And we will extend this principle of transparency to every nook and cranny of politics and public life because it is one of the quickest and easiest ways to transfer power to the powerless and prevent waste, exploitation and abuse.

That's why, for example, all our Conservative candidates for the European Parliament have signed a pledge setting out new standards of transparency and ethical behaviour.

Every Conservative MEP elected next week will publish online a breakdown of all office costs, all travel, names of each member of staff they employ, and details of all meetings with businesses, lobbyists and other interest groups.

OPENING UP POLITICS

But transparency isn't just about cleaning up politics, it's also about opening up politics.

Right now a tiny percentage of the population craft legislation that will apply to one hundred percent of the population.

This locks out countless people across the country whose expertise could help.

So why not invite them in on the process?

We'll create a right of initiative nationally, where if you collect enough signatures you can get your proposals debated in the House of Commons and become law.

And we'll open up the legislative process in other ways too.

The way bills are published online today is stifling innovation and blocking democratic engagement.

So a Conservative government will publish all Parliamentary information online in an open-source format.

This will help people easily access Bills and other legislation in order to create useful applications - like text alerts when something you're interested in is debated.

And it will mean many more expert eyes helping to explain laws as they're formed, flagging up flaws and suggestions for improvement.

Anything that acts as a barrier between politics and the public has got to be torn down - including the ridiculous ban on parliamentary proceedings being uploaded to YouTube.

We need a change of government to drive through this transparency agenda because let's face it, we're not going to get it from Gordon Brown and the Labour government...who tried to block the publication of MPs' expenses by exempting Parliament from the Freedom of Information Act.

But this spirit of glasnost needs to extend beyond Parliament and throughout our political parties too.

One of the reforms I'm most proud of is the widespread introduction of open primaries for the selection of Conservative parliamentary candidates in recent years.

I want to see that continue, with much greater use of open primaries for the selection of parliamentary candidates - and not just in the Conservative Party, but every party.

In time, this will have a transformative effect on our politics, taking power from the party elites and the old boy networks and giving it to the people.
Read the full text

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

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

Jeremy Hayes of BBC Radio 4’s ‘The World Tonight’ and a recent BBC fellow at the Reuters Institute presents a progress report on the Freedom of Information Act.
FOREWORD:
The Freedom of Information Act 2000 has changed journalism in Britain. Four years after it was introduced the flow of news stories relying in whole or in part on information gained through a request to a government department, agency or statutory body has become continual.

Although government ministers insist that the Act was not created for the benefit of journalism, there is no doubt that for a number of journalists the Act has altered the way they work and their expectation about the information they can gather through it.

The purpose of this research is to evaluate the way in which the Act is being applied by officials and the uses to which it is being put by journalists. I have carried this out at a time when the stakes over the future definition of public interest as it applies to FOI have never been higher. 2009 may prove to be a decisive year for the Act through the rulings of the Information Tribunal and the responses evoked in government, and as the scope of the Act as it applies to organisations working in the public sector, including central government, is redefined.
Download the paper here.

FOI Disclosure Stories 18 - 24 May 2009

Fraudsters face UK's extremely thin blue line - The Independent 24/05/09
“Sections of Britain's police force are woefully ill-equipped to deal with fraud, according to figures obtained by the Independent on Sunday under the Freedom of Information Act. Despite estimates suggesting that the UK can expect as much as £20bn worth of fraudulent activity this year, a number of constabularies retain no specialist fraud officers.”

BBC's bonus bonanza: Programme budgets and jobs are cut, but staff still share £17m rewards – The Daily Mail 22/05/09
“The BBC paid its staff £17.5million in bonuses last year as Britain lurched into its worst economic crisis for a generation. The reward payments to 9,777 of the corporation's nearly 21,000 staff also coincided with hundreds of job cuts and budgets being squeezed on many of its shows. The total is down from previous years - in 2006/7 the BBC dished out £20million in bonuses - but critics are amazed that given the bleak economic situation, this year's payments remain so high.”

Four schools 'hit by arsonists every day'
- Telegraph.co.uk 22/05/09
“Schools across Britain are hit by an average of four arson attacks every day, according to new figures. Police were called to deal with deliberate fires almost 3,000 times in the last two years, it is revealed. The Conservatives, who obtained the data using the Freedom of Information act, said many blazes were started by pupils. They are calling for teachers to be given more power to search children for suspicious items.”

Sudden baby boom puts strain on maternity services
- The Times 21/05/09
“Two thirds of NHS trusts are unable to cover the cost of providing maternity services as the birthrate rises, with little evidence that £330 million of extra funding is improving care for mothers and babies, The Times can disclose. Chronic underfunding of midwifery and obstetrics care has produced deficits that run into millions of pounds in some trusts... The figures, obtained by The Times under the Freedom of Information Act, come as statistics show that the birthrate is at its highest level for 36 years.”

IR35 tax rules bring in just £1.5m per year - Computing.co.uk 21/05/09
“Lobby group the Professional Contractors' Group (PCG) has urged the government to scrap its controversial freelance tax rule, IR35, after it was revealed the regulation adds a paltry £1.5m each year to Treasury coffers. The PCG used Freedom of Information rules to uncover that IR35 had raised just £9.2m in tax for the years 2002/3 to 2007/8. Initially the government had expected to raise £220m annually through the rules.”

FOI reveals assaults on mixed wards
- Channel 4 21/05/09
“New research reveals nearly two thirds of sexual assaults in hospitals happen in units where there are mixed wards. Freedom of information requests submitted to all NHS hospital trusts in England by More 4 News found 21 of the 33 attacks took place in hospitals where men and women are treated together, despite government promises to scrap mixed wards.”

Ministry of Defence admits to further radioactive leaks from submarines
- Guardian Unlimited 18/05/09
“Radioactive waste has leaked from Britain's nuclear submarines nine times in the past 12 years, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) has admitted. Two of the leaks – including one at Devonport near Plymouth two months ago – had not been revealed until today. Confirmation of the leaks raises new questions about the MoD's safety record, which has been coming under increasing scrutiny since HMS Vanguard, a British submarine armed with Trident nuclear missiles, collided with a nuclear-armed French submarine, Le Triomphant, under the Atlantic in February.”

Regional

The shocking truth about child abuse in Ulster - Belfast Telegraph 22/05/09
“Disturbing details of children being seriously injured and even killed through abuse in Northern Ireland are exposed by the Belfast Telegraph today. The case reviews — obtained through a Freedom of Information request — have already resulted in the Children's Commissioner calling for an urgent meeting with the Health Minister when she was informed of the shocking content. The cases highlighted today include a six and a half month old baby girl found to have a fractured arm and leg when she died, a boy whose wrist was injured when he was tied up by his foster father and 61 recorded injuries to six children in one family.”

Scotland

Agency staff bill rockets under SNP - The Press and Journal 21/05/09
“The Scottish Government came under fire last night after it emerged that its wage bill for employment agency staff had rocketed by nearly £500,000 in 12 months. Figures released under freedom of information rules showed that the SNP spent £5,023,471 on 668 temporary staff in 2008, up from £4,571,565 the previous year, when 555 people were employed. The government has spent about £1,472,320 on employing 162 staff so far this year.”

Sir Fred and the Case of Smashed Windows
- The Times 18/05/09
“Despite the best efforts of 18 officers, a police dog, and several forensic specialists, the Case of the Smashed Windows — the Edinburgh home of Sir Fred Goodwin, the former RBS chief executive — remains unsolved. The details of the inquiry were released yesterday in response to a Freedom of Information request, and showed a level of commitment from the Lothian and Borders Police that informed observers say has rarely been applied in recent month to other minor acts of vandalism in the city.”

Time delays in serious trials throw doubt on court reforms
- The Scottish Herald 18/05/09
“Hundreds of high court cases are being significantly delayed despite recent reforms to the system which were supposed to have solved the problem. Senior advocates say it is now impossible to get trials to start within the statutory time limit and that victims and innocent suspects are being forced to wait too long to get justice. Figures obtained by The Herald under the Freedom of Information Act show that more than half of the 800 indictment cases in the past year were delayed beyond the 12-month time limit for someone in custody.”

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

FOI Disclosure Stories 11 - 17 May 2009

Treasury bungle on pension fat cats - The Times 16/05/09
“The number of savers who could be caught out by the government’s £1.75m cap on pensions is nearly five times higher than the Treasury initially predicted. Figures obtained from HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) under the Freedom of Information Act show that 22,719 people have received protection certificates to avoid a 55% tax on their pension saving above the cap. The Treasury at first claimed that only 5,000 individuals would be affected by the cap, but it later admitted the number could be as high as 10,000.”

Some monsters have been missing for almost four years - News of the World 16/05/09
“Police have lost track of more than 300 sex beasts and paedophiles, a News of the World investigation has revealed. Staggeringly, some monsters have been missing for almost FOUR YEARS - even though cops are supposed to keep tabs on sex offenders, ranging from rapists to child molesters, once they are freed. We asked all 52 British constabularies to reveal the figures under the Freedom of Information Act. But, despite being chased for two months, 16 didn't reply.”

Big Brother goes digital with IP CCTV - IT PRO 14/05/09
“Half of city councils have moved their CCTV to IP systems, letting more real-time applications be used by police and other government agencies. According to numbers obtained by network firm Telindus via a Freedom of Information Request, half of city councils have digitised some of their CCTV – with a third doing so over the past four years. Telindus suggested IP-based cameras allow police to use real-time applications, such as Automatic Number Plate Recognition, and to get up-to-date photos on their mobile computers.”

PCTs spent £8.2m on suspended GPs in three years
- Health Service Journal 12/05/09
“Primary care trusts have spent at least £8.2m over the last three years paying 134 GPs who were suspended pending investigations into complaints about their conduct. The figure was revealed through Freedom of Information requests made by the Liberal Democrats. Lib Dem health spokesman Norman Lamb said the system for investigating complaints needed to be speeded up urgently. GPs who are suspended continue to receive 90 per cent of their salary. PCTs also need to fund the cost of locums to cover their workload, which will add to the £8.2m cost as that only accounts for GP salaries.”

Missing… from afar
– BBC 12/05/09
“Nearly 500 Britons went missing abroad last year, according to figures obtained by the BBC. Many were found alive within days, some were discovered dead, but for lots of families it is a story without an ending… Foreign Office records, released to the BBC News website under the Freedom of Information Act, showed 145 Britons were missing abroad at the end of 2008. Many had disappeared years earlier - their cases still unsolved. The figure may not sound a lot but for every individual there is a family in torment, treading water, unable to get on with their lives.”

Regional

First new coal mine for Notts in 45 years?
- Nottingham Evening Post 16/05/09
“A new opencast coal mine is being investigated for Notts – the first in 45 years. A letter obtained under the Freedom of Information Act reveals UK Coal has carried out ‘preliminary work’. British Coal is considering a new planning application to dig up coal from a 374-acre site known as Shortwood Farm, between Cossall and Trowell. Campaigners, who have seen off two previous attempts since the early 1990s to create an opencast mine on the site, fear it will scar the countryside, disrupt communities and pollute the environment.”

Five seconds to cross the road - thelondonpaper 15/05/09
“One in five pedestrian crossings in London does not give pedestrians enough time to cross, research has shown. Figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show 472 crossings in the capital endanger pedestrians because some can be safe to cross for as little as five seconds. A typical traffic light crossing should give 12 seconds between the green man going off and the green light for cars coming on, according to Government guidelines.”

Scotland

Highland fly-tippers escape justice as waste piles soar – Press and Journal 11/05/09
“Fly-tipping is going unchecked in the Highlands, with just two perpetrators brought to book in two years, despite almost 4,500 reports of rubbish being dumped illegally. Freedom of information figures obtained by the Press and Journal show there were 4,484 reports of fly-tipping between April 2007 and March this year. In that period, nine £50 fixed-penalty notices were issued after the waste was traced back to the fly-tipper who dumped it, but only two have been paid.”

Richard Thomas's presentation at 'Private Data, Open Government' conference

Richard Thomas's presentation to the conference the ICO hosted on 13 May 2009 is now available to download.
Private Data, Open Government: Questions of Information - 13 May 2009

As he prepares to stand down as Information Commissioner, Richard Thomas hosted conference at the QEII Centre in Westminster on 13 May, to take stock of progress with Freedom of Information and Data Protection. The conference saw a high-level policy focused discussion on the contribution of open government and privacy protection, standing back from immediate preoccupations to look at the underlying policy issues and challenges for the future.

Over 200 high-level stakeholders attended and BBC journalist and broadcaster Jonathan Dimbleby hosted an ‘Any Questions?’ panel session considering issues such as:

What part do Freedom of Information and Data Protection now play in the democratic process?
What are the real benefits and problems of Open Government?
How should the lines be drawn between Security and Privacy?

Richard Thomas offered his reflections on his time as Information Commissioner before the Rt Hon Jack Straw MP, Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice delivered the keynote speech.

The panelists included Peter Fleischer (Global Privacy Counsel, Google), Shami Chakrabarti (Director, Liberty), Dominic Grieve MP (Shadow Justice Secretary), Alan Beith MP (Chair of the Justice Select Committee), Ian Readhead (Director of Information for the Association of Chief Police Officers Criminal Records Office) Roger Smith (Director, Justice) and Matthew Taylor (Chief Executive, Royal Society of Arts).

Click here to view Richard Thomas’s slide presentation.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

FOI survey launched for voluntary organisations and campaign groups

The Scottish Information Commissioner is supporting the University of Strathclyde to undertake a three-year research study, which aims to explore the extent to which campaign groups and voluntary organisations in Scotland and the UK make use of freedom of information (FOI) legislation.

The University of Strathclyde's research questionnaire has now been launched, and representatives of voluntary sector organisations, campaign groups, community activists or other civil society organisations are invited to take a few minutes to complete it.

The survey contains a small number of questions relating to your own experience - or lack of experience - requesting and receiving information from public bodies. It should take around five minutes to complete, and a report from the survey will be published by the University of Strathclyde on this web-page in the Autumn. The information you provide will also help the Scottish Information Commissioner in his ongoing development of resources for the voluntary sector.

You can participate in the survey at: http://tinyurl.com/strathclyde-survey

Details of The Civil Society Research Project - http://www.itspublicknowledge.info/home/SICResources/ResourcesCivil.asp

Thursday, May 14, 2009

MoJ releases Probation Service caseload and performance

14 May 2009

Information released in response to a request for details of the caseload and performance of the Probation Service.

Probation Service caseload and performance (PDF 0.27mb 29 pages)

This is the information request which Justice Secretary, Jack Straw, told the ICO conference 'Private data, open government' he had just signed off. He also said the UK FOI Act "had turned out to be one of the toughest in the world" and he was "convinced that it was the right thing to do" to bring Parliament within the Act's scope.

What the MPs' expenses scoop tells us about journalists and FoI

The government insisted freedom of information would not be 'a research arm for the media'. So just how useful is it for news?

When it comes to MPs' expenses, how much do we owe to the Freedom of Information Act and how much to a CD of data leaked by an insider? We would never have found out about MPs' practice of "flipping" addresses without the Telegraph's story, certainly. But there are some details – claims for mole clearance, lightbulb replacement and porn videos among them – that stem from FoI requests made in 2005.
Read the full article by Jeremy Hayes is available on the Organ Grinder Blog on mediaguardian.co.uk

Monday, May 11, 2009

Contracted out MPs' expenses not exempt from FOI

The Speaker of the House of Commons has confirmed in a statement this afternoon (11 May) that an 'operational assurance unit' will be established to audit MPs' expenses. A report in The Times suggested this was part of a plot to remove MPs' expenses from the FOI Act by contracting out the work of the unit to a private company. Sir Stuart Bell MP told The Times "Receipts would be available under FOI in the unit [when it is part of the Commons] but when they go to an outside unit they would not".

However, this is not correct. Information about MPs' expenses would still be available under FOI, as the information would be held by the contractor on behalf of the House of Commons. Section 3(2) of the FOI Act provides that information is held by a public authority for the purposes of the Act if "it is held by another person on behalf of the authority".

In a case involving information held by a contractor (Atos Healthcare) for Jobcentre Plus, the Information Commissioner ruled:
"the Commissioner has concluded that where the contractor is contractually obliged to provide information to the public authority upon request and/or where information is created as a result of the contractor carrying out functions conferred upon the public authority, that information is held on behalf of the public authority by virtue of section 3(2)(b)."
When this came up at the No. 10 press briefing this morning, the Prime Minister's Spokesman said:
"Asked whether the Prime Minister would oppose any changes that would make the details of MPs expenses exempt from FOI rules, the PMS replied that the Prime Minister’s view was that of course there needed to be a tougher audit, but he was not of the view that this should be at the expense of transparency."
In response to a question by Alan Beith MP, the Speaker also confirmed:
"There is no intention that any action that we take will, inadvertently or otherwise, allow the freedom of information to be restricted."

Have your say: MPs' Expenses

The Committee on Standards in Public Life is currently gathering evidence for its Inquiry into MPs' expenses. One of the questions the Committee will be considering is what level of detail of expenses claims should be routinely available to the public without the need to make Freedom of Information Act requests for it:
Openness and Transparency
4.10. As a result of a High Court ruling on a Freedom of Information request, details of all MPs expenses, down to receipt level, are to be published. After some hesitation, the House of Commons decided not to legislate to exempt details of expenses from the Freedom of Information Act. Arrangements are currently being made to publish receipts used to support claims for the financial years 2004/05 to 2007/08. MPs are being given the chance to redact any personal information which is not relevant to the claim made.

4.11. Questions have been raised about the proportionality and potential security implications of making this information available. The Committee is interested in views on what level of information should be routinely published on MPs' expenses.
For more details about the Committee's Inquiry, including how to submit evidence or make your views known, you can download a copy of the Issues and Questions paper (pdf 227Kb). Or contact the Committee at the address or phone number listed below and we will send you a copy in the post.

The Committee on Standards in Public Life
35 Great Smith Street
London
SW1P 3BQ

+44 (0)20 7276 2595

FOI Disclosure Stories 4 - 10 May 2009

NHS spending on management consultants is ‘shocking’ - Royal College of Nursing 10/05/09
“The NHS spent £350 million on external management consultants in the last financial year. More than £273 million of this was not related to direct patient care and equates to the cost of 330 fully staffed medical wards, each with 28 beds. The RCN has obtained the figures after questioning 240 NHS organisations in England under the Freedom of Information Act."

Shoot to kill, Britain's answer to massacre at Munich - The Independent 09/05/09
“In the wake of the 1972 Munich Olympics massacre, military commanders gave soldiers carte blanche to shoot hostages should nuclear weapons be the target of terrorists... In Britain, the atrocity struck such fear into the hearts of military chiefs that they believed their nuclear weapons could be the next target. A top-secret document obtained by The Independent under the Freedom of Information Act details how the Ministry of Defence made preparations for an attempt by terrorist groups including the IRA and Black September, the Palestinian extremists behind the Munich killings, to ambush military convoys carrying nuclear bombs and set off a ‘dirty-bomb’ explosion.”

£500k – what it cost to feed (and water) G20 leaders – The independent 07/05/09
“… a bill of about £500,000 for wining and dining the delegates, their partners and their aides, The Independent can reveal. The figures, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, reveal that the cost of a series of dinners for dignitaries on the eve of the summit, crucial to boosting Mr Brown's global standing, cost more than £66,000. The high-profile guests consumed 136 bottles of wine worth £6,000, all paid for by the taxpayer.”

Large business initiative suffers low uptake
- Accountancy Age 07/05/09
“A key corporate tax initiative, aimed at giving multinationals early certainty over their affairs, has dealt with just 18 cases in as many months. The advance agreement unit was set up by former HM Revenue & Customs chairman David Varney in 2006 to provide big business with a ‘system of advance rulings’ to offer ‘certainty’ over their tax arrangements in relation to investments and restructuring. But figures obtained by Accountancy Age under the Freedom of Information Act reveal that just 18 requests for rulings have been submitted since the unit was launched in October 2007.”

British tax payer pays £600000 in legal fees for alQaeda suspects - Telegraph.co.uk 06/05/09
“Lawyers for Khalid al-Fawwaz, a Saudi citizen who allegedly acted as Osama bin Laden's public relations representative in London, received £250,000 in legal fees from the Legal Services Commission according to documents released under the Freedom of Information Act… British taxpayers also covered nearly £110,000 in legal bills for al-Fawwaz's co-defendant, Adel Abdel Bary, an Egyptian who was allegedly close to Ayman al-Zawahiri, the deputy leader of al-Qaeda. Nearly £215,000 was paid in legal costs for a second associate, Ibrahim Eidarous who died of leukaemia in July while under house arrest in London.”

Civil servants feel Gordon Brown’s government is badly run - Personnel Today 06/05/09
“Thousands of civil servants do not know what their specific roles are within their government department, staff surveys have revealed. Using freedom of information requests to expose the findings of staff surveys at 13 government departments – employing just under 37,000 workers – the Conservative Party has revealed 8,000 staff have doubts about what was expected of them… The surveys of civil servants, including those working at the Cabinet Office, the Home Office and the Department of Health, also found 62% of civil servants – 23,000 staff within the 13 departments – felt their department was poorly managed.”

Millions 'wasted' advertising A-level alternative - Telegraph.co.uk 04/05/09
“Almost £11 million has been spent advertising the Government's new diploma qualifications, even though courses are hugely undersubscribed this year. It means the equivalent of £900 was spent recruiting every pupil onto diploma courses. Some £2.6m went on radio adverts alone as it was disclosed the take-up rate was a quarter of the original estimate, according to figures released under the Freedom of Information Act.”

Nine crashes a day caused by police – Daily Mirror 04/05/09
“Shocking figures reveal how careless police driving is putting public at risk. And shockingly many of these accidents are caused by basic driving errors. More than 150 people have died in police-related car accidents since 2004, including 79 during chases. Officers admitted causing 3,357 crashes last year – an average of more than 64 a week. At least 2,492 of the victims were driving another vehicle – 56 were motorcyclists or cyclists and at least 22 pedestrians – with 126 needing hospital treatment."

Use of experiment primates shown - BBCi 05/05/09
“Oxford University has revealed the number of primates it uses for animal experiments, after being ordered to by the Information Commissioner... In 2008 the university held 86 primates with 66 experimented upon, compared to 99 held and 40 experimented on in 2007. The British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection had requested the details.”

Scotland

Historic Scotland's clothes bill nearly £1m - The Times 10/05/09
“Historic Scotland has spent almost £200,000 a year on staff uniforms and costumes over the past five years, it has emerged. Figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act reveal that the government-funded heritage body has bought £900,000 worth of clothing over the past five years. More than £500,000 was spent on uniforms for 300 staff, including bespoke tartan trousers, kilts, wool jackets and cloaks for staff at Edinburgh Castle at a cost of £188,000.”

Fears capital’s tram project could ‘run off the rails’ - The Scottish Herald 08/05/09
“A major component of Edinburgh's £512m trams scheme is running nine months behind schedule, prompting claims that the cost of Scotland's biggest transport infrastructure project could ‘run off the rails’. Figures released under the Freedom of Information Act reveal that only 70% of utility work to prepare ground along the 11-mile route, which is due to be finished in September, has so far been completed. Work along some sections of the track is even further behind, with groundwork along the stretch between Newhaven and the Foot of Leith Walk only 40% completed. The Herald understands that the delays could lead to additional costs of between £50m to £80m.”

Motorists drive home their anger at potholes - The Press and Journal 04/05/09
“Angry motorists made more than 2,000 complaints about the number of potholes in Aberdeen’s roads over just six months. There was concern last night that the council was struggling to cope with the level of maintenance needed to bring the streets and main routes into and out of the city up to standard. New figures obtained by the Press and Journal using freedom of information legislation have revealed that the council received 2,023 complaints from disgruntled drivers between October and March.”

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

FOI Disclosure Stories 27 April - 3 May 2009

New footage released of July 7 bombers - Guardian Unlimited 01/05/09
“New footage of the July 7 bombers was released today after a three-year freedom of information battle. The images show the terrorists chatting, putting on rucksacks and buying snacks on their way to blow up tube trains. Hasib Hussain is also seen shopping for a battery and stopping at McDonald's as he struggles to make his device work after the other bombs have been detonated… Last month the information commissioner dismissed Scotland Yard's objections that disclosure could disrupt its investigations, and ordered the release of seven pieces of footage.”

Home Office ‘colluded with Phorm’ – BBC 28/04/09
“The Home Office has been accused of colluding with online ad firm Phorm on ‘informal guidance’ to the public on whether the company's service is legal. E-mails between the ministry and Phorm show the department asking if the firm would be ‘comforted’ by its position. The messages show Phorm making changes to the guidance sought by the ministry… The e-mail exchanges were released under a Freedom of Information (FOI) Act request made by a member of the public and sent to the BBC.”

Radioactive leaks from naval base
– Channel 4 27/04/09
“Britain's Trident submarine fleet is accused of behaving ‘above the law’ after a secret series of radioactive leaks and hazardous practices at its base were revealed by Channel 4 News. Nuclear discharges, safety fears and concerns over poor maintenance at the Faslane naval base in Scotland were so acute experts say it should have been closed down, a Channel 4 News investigation has found. Details of the nuclear breaches at the base, part of Her Majesty's Naval Base Clyde, were unearthed via a series of Freedom of Information (FoI) requests by this programme.”

Regional

Pro rata salary
- BBC 28/04/09
“Derry City Council has paid the manager of City of Derry airport almost £35,000 since he took up the part-time post just over three months ago. The information was revealed to the BBC following a request under the Freedom of Information Act. Albert Harrison was hired on 13 January to work three days a week. If that is still the case, he will have worked, at most, 48 days to date - equating to £725 a day.”