Wednesday, September 30, 2009

FOI Disclosure Stories 21 - 27 September 2009

150 teachers rapped for sexual misconduct - ITN 26/09/09
“Almost 150 teachers in England have been sacked or disciplined for sexual misconduct in the last two years, new figures show.
 Some 49 of the 56 teachers who lost their jobs were reported to the police, while a further 92 faced disciplinary action, according to figures released under the Freedom of Information Act.

"

'NHS Cashing In On Hospital Car Parking' - Sky News 26/09/09
“NHS hospitals raked in more than £110m in car parking charges last year, figures obtained by the Liberal Democrats show. The figures, disclosed under the Freedom of Information Act, show visitors were hit with £84m in parking fees while NHS staff forked out £28m. Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge made the most out of any hospital in England - £2.8m in all.”

PCTs launching propaganda drive to promote swine flu jab - Healthcare Republic 25/09/09
“Two-thirds of PCTs are launching communication plans to persuade GPs and other health workers to take up the swine flu jab. However, almost half have yet to decide which groups of health workers will receive the jabs, information obtained by GP under the Freedom of Information Act shows. Of 33 PCTs that responded, 22 said they would be undertaking work to encourage health professionals and those in at-risk groups to take up the vaccine… PCTs will also need to make decisions about which health workers should be included in local plans. But just 16 PCTs said they had decided which staff would be vaccinated.”

NHS hospital equipment 'under-used' - Health Service Journal 25/09/09
“Hospitals are failing to make use of sophisticated and expensive treatment technology, the Taxpayers’ Alliance has claimed. The group analysed figures obtained under a freedom of information request from 187 English NHS trusts. They claim the research shows that use of linear accelerators, devices used to treat cancer, fell well below expected standards. The National Radiotherapy Advisory Group recommends 8,000 doses per machine per year, but the research revealed an average number of 7,191."

What is a student worth? - SecEd Magazine 24/09/09
“Headteachers have this week blasted the ‘staggering discrepancies’ in the way schools are funded, and have called for an overhaul of the system. The call has been sparked after a Freedom of Information request by David Laws, the Liberal Democrat education spokesman, revealed that as many as 2,000 schools could face a deficit this year because the government’s Dedicated Schools Grant (DSG) fails to cater for their needs. In England, the national average funding per-pupil across local authorities is £4,218 a year. However, this varies from £3,728 per pupil in Leicestershire to £7,603 in the City of London.”

Britain goes soft on kid sex perverts - The Sun 23/09/09
“...more than a quarter of child abusers are let off with a caution by cops. The shock figures emerged in responses by 33 police forces to Freedom of Information demands by The Sun. In total, 8,043 people who committed sexual and physical abuse offences against kids were charged in the year to April, while 2,764 were given a caution."
(Read the Police's reaction at: Police Hit Back At 'Leniency' Accusations - Police Oracle 23/09/09)

Labour ministers accused of being 'soft' on alcohol warnings - Daily Mail 22/09/09
“Ministers have been accused of colluding with the alcohol lobby to water down new warning labels on drinks. Plans to warn mothers-to-be that alcohol 'can harm your baby' were rejected in favour of telling women to 'avoid alcohol when pregnant'… Department of Health papers, which officials fought to keep secret, show how it opted for the milder warning. The document said one of the 'pros' was this message had been 'provisionally accepted by the alcohol industry'.”

Third of rape claims 'unrecorded' - BBC 21/09/09
“Hundreds of rape claims reported to police across the UK don't end up in official crime records, figures obtained by Newsbeat show. Answers to questions placed to every police force in the UK under freedom of information laws revealed variations in numbers of rape crimes removed from formal databases in a process known as ‘no-criming.’ Between April 2007 and March 2008 there were 2701 claims of rape in London but only 1847 were recorded as crimes. Four-hundred-and-sixty were no crimed and deleted from the records, 396 were never put on the books in the first place. In Northumbria there were 382 reports of rape, but 172 of those never made it into official Home Office figures."

Regional

Wrexham council made £83,000 from sunbeds, BMA calls for ban
- Daily Post 27/09/09
“Doctors’ leaders demanding curbs on the sunbed industry revealed Wrexham council made more than £83,000 in five years from tanning machines in its leisure centres... Now the BMA is calling for the immediate removal of all sunbeds from local authority owned premises and for tighter regulation of the sunbed industry… Wrexham council runs three leisure centres and has one sunbed at Waterworld, two at Queensway and two at Plas Madoc. It reduced the overall number from seven to five and announced that all would be removed by April next year.”

Scotland

Big rise in kids clothing bill - Dundee Evening Telegraph 25/09/09
“Dundee City Council has paid out hundreds of thousands of pounds to cash-strapped families to clothe their children this year... Figures released under Freedom of Information legislation show that while there are still seven months left in the current financial year, a total of £283,800 has already been spent on back-to-school grants. A total of £303,375 was awarded to struggling families for the whole of 2007-08, while £316,285 was awarded during the preceding financial year.”

Friday, September 25, 2009

ICO Enforcement Action Log (partially) disclosed

The Information Commissioner's Office has released a version of its 'Enforcement Action Log' (aka the 'Watch List') which records cases where the ICO's Enforcement Team is engaged with a public authority because of systemic, repeated or serious non-compliance with the FOI Act or EIRs. The request for the log was made via the whatdotheyknow site.

The released version does not contain details of open enforcement cases - the ICO has cited s.31(1)(g) and s.31(2)(c) to withhold these.

The ICO's response to the request states:
Typical issues which may make such engagement necessary are:

- serious or repeated failures to meet the requirements of section 10 (1)

- regular and / or unwarranted extensions to the time for compliance (e.g. Public Interest Test), with particular emphasis on those which exceed the Commissioner’s guidance

- serious or repeated failures to issue refusals notices which comply with section 17

- regular and / or unwarranted extensions to the timeframe for internal reviews, with particular emphasis on those which exceed the Commissioner’s guidance

- failure to have an internal review procedure in place, or the failure to operate that procedure in accordance with the recommendations of the section 45 Code of Practice

- internal review procedures of more than one stage

- repeated or serious application of blanket, or obviously inappropriate exemptions (or exceptions)

- repeated failure to engage with the ICO’s investigations, or repeated delays in that engagement

- repeated failure to explain why exemptions (or exceptions) apply

- repeated failures to explain the balance of public interest when qualified exemptions (or exceptions) have been applied

- evidence that the authority is failing to take its responsibilities seriously

- record management failures (section 46 Code of Practice)

- evidence that an authority does not have a sufficient understanding of the Act, the EIR or the Codes of Practice

When patterns of repeated or systemic incidences of poor practice are identified, the Enforcement Team consider whether intervention is appropriate. The team may also intervene in a single case, provided the issues are sufficiently serious. Such intervention is recorded in the
enforcement action log.
Hat tip to Matt Davis who covered this on FOI News.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

FOI Statistics Apr-June 2009

The quarterly statistics bulletin on FOI implementation within central government have been published for the period April to June 2009.
Executive summary
Departments of State reported receiving 5,769 “non-routine” information requests during the second quarter of 2009 (Q2). Other monitored bodies received 4,195 requests. Across all monitored bodies, a total of 9,964 requests were received, of which 92 per cent had been processed at the time of monitoring. This includes 189 requests handled under the amended Environmental Information Regulations (EIRs) which came into force on 1 January 2005. [see Table 1]

The 9,964 requests across all monitored bodies received in the second quarter of 2009 is 12 per cent greater than the 8,865 received during the corresponding quarter of 2008. [see Table A]

During Q2 of 2009, 86 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 the same as in the previous quarter but slightly lower than in the corresponding quarter of 2008. [see Table 2 and Table B] Of all “resolvable” requests received during Q2 of 2009 (i.e. requests where it was possible to make a substantive decision on whether to release the information being sought), 55 per cent were granted in full, slightly lower than in the previous quarter. [see Table 3 and Table C]
Quarterly statistics - April to June 2009 (Pdf 0.18mb 38 pages)

Monday, September 21, 2009

FOI Disclosure Stories 14 - 20 September 2009

MPs accused of failing to pay their Commons food bills - The Times 17/09/09
“British MPs have run up unpaid bills in the House of Commons' subsidised restaurants and bars totalling almost £140,000. More than half of all MPs - 329 of them - have outstanding debts averaging £419 for wining and dining on their Commons tabs, according to data released under the Freedom of Information Act.”

Government pays 26 million pounds for bank protection advice - Reuters 15/09/09
“The government has paid banks, lawyers and other advisers 26.5 million pounds for work related to setting up its scheme to insure risky assets held by two banks. Investment banks Citi (C.N) and Credit Suisse (CSGN.VX) and asset manager BlackRock (BLK.N) were among seven firms to be paid for advice, according to a Treasury response to a Freedom of Information request by Reuters. Part-nationalised Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS.L) and Lloyds Banking Group (LLOY.L) plan to insure about 585 billion pounds of their risky assets through the government's asset protection scheme (APS.L).”


Regional

£1.6m 'wasted' on scrapped road upgrade - Gazette News 16/09/09
“A TOTAL of £1.67million of taxpayers’ cash was spent on plans for a dual carriageway on the A120, which were later scrapped… The £500million proposal was axed in July, after the East of England Regional Assembly and East of England Development Agency said it was unaffordable.”

BBC Wales bosses' costs published
- BBCi 15/09/09
“The salaries and expenses of some of BBC Wales' most senior managers have been made available following a freedom of information (FOI) request… Salary ranges for board members included: Menna Richards, director, BBC Wales - salary band £160,000 to £190,000; Gareth Powell, chief operating officer - salary band £100,000 to £130,000…”

Government officials overpaid by £1.5m
- Yorkshire Post 14/09/09
“Officials at a Government department have been overpaid more than £1.5m, it has emerged. In one case, a civil servant nearly doubled their salary. The unnamed official at the Ministry of Justice was handed an extra £18,500, on top of annual earnings of £22,000. Freedom of Information Act requests revealed more than 1,000 staff at the department were overpaid a total of £1,522,995 over the last three years – but more than half that total will never be paid back.”

Scotland


NHS ‘spending millions’ on equipment for obese patients
- The Herald 15/09/09
“Health boards are spending millions of pounds on special equipment to treat obese patients, the Liberal Democrats have claimed. Figures obtained under Freedom of Information showed that health boards had spent almost £4.4 million in recent years on items such as extra wide beds, wider bedside chairs and wider wheelchairs… The figures showed health boards have spent more than £1.3 million on extra wide beds suitable for obese patients, while bosses at NHS Fife spent £79,500 on larger tables for operating theatres.”

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Releasing ministerial letter on NHS contract will not limit free and frank discussions

ICO press release
17 September 2009

The Information Commissioner has ordered the Department of Health to release a letter from a former Treasury minister concerning the NHS consultant contract. The Department of Health received a request under the Freedom of Information Act for the business case on the consultants’ contract which it provided to HM Treasury in 2002. The requester also asked for a copy of HM Treasury’s response.

...

The Information Commissioner agrees that the exemption applies. Nonetheless, the letter from a Treasury minister, which contains the response to the business case, must be released on public interest grounds. The Information Commissioner is not persuaded by the view that disclosure would affect the frankness and candour with which ministers would debate policy issues in the future. The Decision Notice also highlights that this contract is no longer a ‘live’ issue, but that there has been significant public interest in whether the contract has delivered value for money.

Full ICO press release here.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Conservatives launch proposals to strengthen independence and powers of Information Commissioner

Shadow Justice Secretary Dominic Grieve and shadow Justice Minister Eleanor Laing are today (16 Sept) launching a policy paper Reversing the Rise of the Surveillance State. The paper, which includes 11 measures to protect personal privacy and hold government to account, also includes proposals to strengthen the powers and independence of the Information Commissioner:
The Information Commissioner has proved one of the bulwarks against the rise of the surveillance state, providing early warnings and technical advice on the growing concerns over data security. However, the current role is limited and could be strengthened to ensure the Information Commissioner has the necessary independence and powers to hold government to account. In due course, we will also be examining the Information Commissioner’s role in overseeing the Freedom of Information system, in light of our commitment to radical reform to achieve far greater transparency in public sector spending and wider governance.

At this stage, we propose that the following reforms:

• The Information Commissioner will be appointed by Parliament rather than the Ministry of Justice.

If the Information Commissioner is to be an effective guardian of the public interest against privacy intrusions by government, he cannot be appointed by government.

We will consult on the detail of the appointment process and organisational structure, based on the operational experience of analogous models including the Electoral Commission, Parliamentary Ombudsman and other bodies.
This would bring appointment of the UK Information Commissioner into line with that of the Scottish Information Commissioner, who is appointed by the Scottish Parliament. It would also implement a recommendation from the Justice Committee, which has recommended in two reports that the Information Commissioner become directly responsible to, and funded by, Parliament to protect the independence of the role.

UPDATED: Dominic Grieve's speech is here.

Monday, September 14, 2009

US Clean Water Act violated 500,000 times, FOI request reveals

Clean water laws are neglected, at a cost in suffering
The New York Times, 13 Sept 2009

Almost four decades ago, Congress passed the Clean Water Act to force polluters to disclose the toxins they dump into waterways and to give regulators the power to fine or jail offenders. States have passed pollution statutes of their own. But in recent years, violations of the Clean Water Act have risen steadily across the nation, an extensive review of water pollution records by The New York Times found.

In the last five years alone, chemical factories, manufacturing plants and other workplaces have violated water pollution laws more than half a million times. The violations range from failing to report emissions to dumping toxins at concentrations regulators say might contribute to cancer, birth defects and other illnesses.
...
The Times obtained hundreds of thousands of water pollution records through Freedom of Information Act requests to every state and the E.P.A., and compiled a national database of water pollution violations that is more comprehensive than those maintained by states or the E.P.A. (For an interactive version, which can show violations in any community, visit www.nytimes.com/toxicwaters.)

In addition, The Times interviewed more than 250 state and federal regulators, water-system managers, environmental advocates and scientists.

That research shows that an estimated one in 10 Americans have been exposed to drinking water that contains dangerous chemicals or fails to meet a federal health benchmark in other ways.
...
The Times’s research also shows that last year, 40 percent of the nation’s community water systems violated the Safe Drinking Water Act at least once, according to an analysis of E.P.A. data. Those violations ranged from failing to maintain proper paperwork to allowing carcinogens into tap water. More than 23 million people received drinking water from municipal systems that violated a health-based standard.

In some cases, people got sick right away. In other situations, pollutants like chemicals, inorganic toxins and heavy metals can accumulate in the body for years or decades before they cause problems. Some of the most frequently detected contaminants have been linked to cancer, birth defects and neurological disorders.

Records analyzed by The Times indicate that the Clean Water Act has been violated more than 506,000 times since 2004, by more than 23,000 companies and other facilities, according to reports submitted by polluters themselves. Companies sometimes test what they are dumping only once a quarter, so the actual number of days when they broke the law is often far higher. And some companies illegally avoid reporting their emissions, say officials, so infractions go unrecorded.
...
Some violations are relatively minor. But about 60 percent of the polluters were deemed in “significant noncompliance” — meaning their violations were the most serious kind, like dumping cancer-causing chemicals or failing to measure or report when they pollute.

Finally, the Times’s research shows that fewer than 3 percent of Clean Water Act violations resulted in fines or other significant punishments by state officials. And the E.P.A. has often declined to prosecute polluters or force states to strengthen their enforcement by threatening to withhold federal money or take away powers the agency has delegated to state officials.
Full NY Times story here.

FOI Disclosure Stories 7 -13 September 2009

Lobby forces details out of FSA - Environmental Health News 10/09/09
“The Food Standards Agency has been forced to publish details of a presentation made by fast-food giant McDonald’s as part of a campaign to change guidance on burger cooking times following a challenge under the Freedom of Information Act. Guidelines issued by the chief medical officer in 1998 state that fast-food burgers should be cooked at 70ÂșC for at least two minutes, or an equivalent time and temperature combination. US guidance allows for much shorter cooking times… McDonald’s made a presentation in 2006 on the case for reducing cooking times…”

How PCTs use undercover 'mystery shoppers' to assess GPs - Pulse 09/09/09
“Primary care trusts are aggressively ramping up use of ‘mystery shoppers’ as a way of assessing local GP services, with some throwing tens of thousands of pounds at undercover projects... Information obtained under the Freedom of Information Act from 110 PCTs shows one in three have either already used mystery shoppers to assess GPs, or are likely to do so shortly. Trusts are employing patients or using PCT staff to carry out covert checks, with one spending £25,000 on undercover checks over six months.”

Britons' Torture Claims Ignored By London - Sky News 09/09/09
“Foreign Office emails, obtained by Sky News, have revealed officials failed to act after two British men claimed to have been tortured and forced to confess to murder. The correspondence, released under the Freedom of Information Act, shows that officials took months to follow up the claims against Pakistani police… The disclosure of the internal messages contradicts claims by the FCO earlier this year that officials had 'actively sought' to raise the allegations with Pakistani authorities.”

Critically ill patients lack hospital bed - The Times 08/09/09
“Almost 2,000 critically ill patients were discharged early from NHS intensive care units last year because of a shortage of beds, the Conservatives have claimed. Data from eight out of ten hospital trusts in England suggests that a further 20,000 patients had their discharge from intensive care delayed because there were no suitable beds in other wards to which they could be transferred.”

Regional

University Press in £330k expenses row - Cambridge Evening News 11/09/09
“Seven directors at Cambridge University Press clocked up nearly £330,000 in travel and ‘entertaining expenses - in the same year the firm laid off around 50 staff. Figures released under the Freedom of Information Act show 2008/09 spending by the chief executive and Press board came to £294,439 for travel and £33,911 for entertaining.”

NIO 'abandoned' victims' Libya compensation bid - Belfast News Letter 10/09/09
“Secretary of State Shaun Woodward's department told the Government that it should not support Ulster victims' fight for compensation from Libya despite the Secretary of State's responsibility to represent Northern Ireland's interests to the Cabinet. Foreign Office files released to the News Letter under the Freedom of Information Act reveal that both the Foreign Office and the Northern Ireland Office (NIO), decided that the Government should not even diplomatically ask Libya to compensate its UK victims, the majority of whom are from the Province.”

Delayed: platforms for Waterloo commuters will not arrive until 2014
- London Evening Standard 10/09/09
“Commuters will have to wait until 2014 before the former Eurostar platforms at Waterloo station are adapted for suburban trains, it emerged today. Ministers came under fire for ‘dithering’ as the Department for Transport revealed in a Freedom of Information document that it would be years before the former Waterloo International was adapted for commuter use. When the Eurostar terminal closed two years ago, the Government said that at least one of its five platforms would be in use by last December.”

Scotland

Shocking scale of cocaine use in Scotland revealed as cops bust boy aged 11 for possession – The Daily Record 08/09/09
“A boy aged 11 has been arrested in possession of cocaine, the Record can reveal. The shock case highlights an alarming boom in the drug's use in Scotland. New figures confirm the number of people arrested for cocaine possession in Strathclyde more than doubled between 2004-5 and last year - from 674 to 1751.”

Friday, September 11, 2009

Essex Police criticised for lack of engagement with ICO investigation

Essex Police have been strongly criticised by the Information Commissioner over their handling of a request and lack of engagement with the Commissioner's Office during its investigation of the case:
"During the course of his investigation, the Commissioner has met with resistance in his attempts to understand the public authority's reasons for invoking section 12 [the cost limit]. The public authority has appeared unwilling or unable to provide the details requested or to meet the timescales for response set out in the Commissioner's letters. The Commissioner does not consider the public authority's approach in this case to be particularly co-operative, or within the spirit of the Act. As such he will be monitoring the public authority's future engagement with his office and would hope to see improvements in this regard."
The force was also criticised for destroying requested information before the appeal process had been fully exhausted - the notice states it "may have been destroyed after the public authority became aware of the Commissioner's investigation" - for taking five months to complete an internal review and for failing to provide the requester with adequate advice and assistance.

See Decision Notice FS50143930

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Written Answers: ICO investigations involving complaints from MPs

Mr. Gordon Prentice: To ask the Secretary of State for Justice how many hon. Members have referred responses to requests under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 to the Information Commission in each of the last three years; and in each case how many such referrals were not resolved after 12 months of consideration. [287999]

Mr. Wills: The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) is the independent authority responsible for enforcing the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).


9 Sep 2009 : Column 2025W
Information about the numbers of complaints referred by hon. Members to the ICO and the time taken to resolve them is set out as follows. However, it should be noted that this information was identified on the basis of complaints made from a respondent address of the Palace of Westminster. It does not include referrals made by hon. Members from their constituency or other address or from MEPs or MSPs.

Number of hon. Members Total number of cases Resolved in over 12 months


The ICO is committed to resolving cases as efficiently as possible, and is improving its closure rates despite large increases in the volume of case receipts since the introduction of the Act.

This information was provided by the ICO.

House of Commons Hansard Written Answers for 09 Sep 2009 (pt 0028)

SIC orders release of PFI prison contract financial model

BBC News
10 September 2009
Scotland's Information Commissioner has ordered the release of key financial data from a £50m PFI contract for Kilmarnock jail.

The Scottish Prison Service (SPS) and the private jail's operator had resisted giving the information to the union Unison.

They argued it would substantially prejudice the contractor's commercial interests.

Unison said it was "a major victory for the public's right to know".

The prison is operated by Serco on behalf of the Scottish Prison Service.

The SPS said it was "currently considering its response".

Information Commissioner Kevin Dunion said the significance of the financial model data had diminished substantially since the 25-year contract was signed in November 1997.

Unison's Scottish organiser Dave Watson said the union had long argued there was too much secrecy around PFI and Public Private Partnership (PPP) contracts.

"Too often the public is denied information about the costs of hospital, school and prison contracts on the grounds of commercial prejudice or commercial confidentiality," he said.

"This decision is extremely important and should help pave the way for greater access to information about all PFI/PPP contracts."
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/scotland/glasgow_and_west/8247114.stm

SIC Decision 104/2009 UNISON Scotland and the Scottish Prison Service here.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

FOI Disclosure Stories 10 August - 6 September 2009

Dental costs vary hugely across UK - Guardian Unlimited 04/09/09
“Huge variations in dental costs across the country have emerged from figures showing that in some areas practitioners are paid almost 10 times as much as others… The apparent disparities in dentists' pay come from a series of Freedom of Information requests put in to English primary care trusts (PCTs)... In Westminster PCT, for example, the figures show that the maximum paid for a UDA is £105.58 and the minimum £20.19. By contrast, in Sandwell, a relatively deprived area in the West Midlands, the range is from £11.08 per UDA up to a maximum of £45.83.”

Tories put the heat on school kitchens
- Guardian Unlimited 03/09/09
“Almost one in five primary schools do not have the equipment to prepare lunches on site, forcing them to serve ‘meals on wheels’, a survey of local authorities, conducted by the Conservatives using the Freedom of Information Act, has revealed. Three out of 10 schools do not have full kitchens, with 2,853 primaries transporting food from another school and some 670 schools serving only cold food.”

Use of restraint surges in YOIs – Children & Young People Now 03/09/09
“New figures obtained by CYP Now from the Ministry of Justice show that, while use of restraint in secure children's homes (SCHs) and secure training centres (STCs) has dropped, the practice is on the rise in young offender institutions (YOIs). In the year ending March 2009, restraint was used 4,274 times in YOIs compared with 3,409 times the previous year.”

Applicants avoid top jobs as FSA gets tough - FTAdviser 03/09/09
“Nearly one in 10 applicants chasing top jobs at large financial services firms have withdrawn their applications since the FSA started scrutinising the hiring process, according to Reynolds Porter Chamberlain. Following a Freedom of Information Act request the FSA released data to the city law firm revealing 15 applicants for senior roles had withdrawn their application for FSA approval before receiving a formal response from the regulator. At the stage of their withdrawals only 147 had been interviewed by the FSA, with a further 27 arranged or to be arranged.”

'Pointless rebranding wastes money' - Public Servant 01/09/09
“The government is wasting hundreds of thousands of pounds on pointless rebranding, the Tories have said, including £3,830 on a new Department for Communities and Local Government logo when the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister was abolished three years ago only for another £24,765 to be spent rebranding the department as Communities and Local Government. As a result of a Freedom of Information Act request, the Conservatives have found that almost £170,000 has been spent on such rebranding.”

Village schools closing at a rate of one a month - Telegraph.co.uk 31/08/09
“One village school is closing every month as an increasing number of families find themselves priced out of the countryside, campaigners have warned. Research commissioned by a coalition of housing and education groups suggests that if the situation continues to worsen, another 200 rural schools will shut within five years. Figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by the Housing Federation show that between 2004 and 2008, 62 country primary schools closed their doors forever, an average of 12 a year.”

‘More than 30’ police hurt at G20 – BBC 30/08/09
“More than 30 police officers were injured in clashes or accidents during protests at the G20 summit in London, new figures show. The injuries ranged from being hit by flying debris, attacked by protesters or crushed in crowds to dog bites and being scalded while making a hot drink. Officers from four forces were involved in the two-day operation in April.”

Cost of school rebuilding soars - Guardian Unlimited 30/08/09
“The costs of planning and setting up new schools have soared by 50% under the government's rebuilding programme, with one council paying consultants £24m before a single building had even been constructed. The massive rises in the cost of new privately financed schools – obtained under the Freedom of Information Act – have contributed to the bill for the government's flagship school rebuilding programme spiralling from £45bn to £55bn.”

CRB looks to ID cards to solve accuracy woes
- The Register 27/08/09
“Millions could be asked to provide ID card and fingerprint data to get a job under new systems being developed by the Home Office following a collapse in the accuracy of background checks. News of the plans emerged in the response to a Register Freedom of Information Act request to the Criminal Records Bureau (CRB). Today campaigners warned it could be used to help impose ID cards through the back door.”

Mervyn King agreed £16million of bonuses for Bank of England staff over three years
- Telegraph.co.uk 27/08/09
“Figures obtained by The Daily Telegraph under the Freedom of Information Act show that Mr. [Mervyn] King agreed cash payments totalling £15.8million for his 1,600 staff in the three years until the end of March 2009. The bonuses were sanctioned by an executive team chaired by Mr King. They increased by 19 per cent as Britain slid into recession from £4.8million in 2006/7, to £5.3million in 2007/8 and £5.7million in 2008/9.”

4,000 Born Out of Baby Wards – The Mirror 26/08/09
“Almost four thousand women gave birth outside maternity wards in England last year… Figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, showed 1,548 women had unplanned home births, 38 babies were born in an ambulance and 333 in transit to the hospital. It was revealed 63 children were delivered in A&E and 171 in an antenatal wards or area.”

BBC spends more than £1m entering programmes for awards - Telegraph.co.uk 26/08/09
“The corporation is devoting £329,400 of licence fee-payers’ money to its Awards Unit this year, according to documents released under the Freedom of Information Act. For the past two years it has spent even more, with the budget totalling £366,000. The unit, which is overseen by Jana Bennett, the BBC television chief, also employs two staff members, the documents show.”

Pavement trip payouts cost £82m - BBCi 25/08/09
“Councils in England have paid out more than £82m in compensation over the past five years to people who have tripped on pavements, figures have revealed. More than 90 authorities responded to a Freedom of Information request by the Liberal Democrats. Leeds City Council had the highest compensation payment, which was £10.2m between 2004 and 2009.”

Home Office trebles consultancy spend - ComputerWeekly 25/08/09
“Home Office spending on its top five consultants almost trebled from £27.3m to £77.8m in the past year as it wrestled with two huge and controversial projects, the national identity scheme and the interception modernisation programme. The big winners were PA Consulting and Deloitte & Touche, which between them have taken £61.6m in the past two years.”

CCTV Boom 'Failing In Fight Against Crime' - Sky News 24/08/09
“An internal police report has raised serious concerns about whether CCTV is being used effectively in the fight against crime. The document reveals that CCTV footage was used to solve less than one crime for every 1,000 cameras in London. Obtained from Scotland Yard using the Freedom of Information Act, the report recommends an overhaul of the way CCTV is handled across the UK.”

Champagne general? He drinks £1.49 plonk and shops at Lidl – News of the World 23/08/09
“[Armed Force chief General Sir Richard Dannatt’s] total [expenses] over the last four financial years, including 18 months official expenses as Commander in Chief Land Forces, adds up to a modest £19,290.77… In the last year most of the 17 formal dinners he hosted in London at his official Kensington Palace residence followed a trip to a nearby Tesco. On August 31, 2008, he hosted Indian Army Chief General Deepak Kapoor, Indian High Commissioner Shiv Mukherjee, and 21 others for a reception at Kensington Palace costing £123.58. It worked out at £5.15 per person, consisting largely of pastry, cheese and salmon from Tesco..."

Government art cost taxpayers £500,000 – Telegraph.co.uk 22/08/09
“Details obtained through a freedom of information request reveal that, despite the economic downturn, the Government Art Collection has spent £556,911 on acquisitions in the year 2008 to 2009. This is a 34 per cent increase from the previous year and more than double what was spent on artworks in 2006 to 2007.”

450,000 children failed by 'coasting' schools - Telegraph.co.uk 22/08/09
“More than 450,000 children are being taught in ‘coasting’ schools that are failing to stretch their pupils, according to the Government's own assessment. Official data, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, shows that a total of 470 secondary schools, many located in middle-class suburbs and shire counties, are ‘resting on their laurels’ instead of pushing pupils to get the best grades. They have been designated as ‘coasting’ by the Department for Children, Schools and Families under new criteria introduced last year.”

High cost of Iraq war surprised Whitehall - FT.com 21/08/09
“Tony Blair’s government believed the UK would spend no more on the 2003 invasion of Iraq than it did on the 1991 Gulf war, according to documents released under freedom of information rules... In a document drawn up for Ed Balls, special adviser to Gordon Brown, the then chancellor, officials said the “central estimate” for the cost of “preparation, deployment and return” of UK troops from Iraq was £2.5bn, similar to the figure for UK participation in the 1991 Gulf war. However, Treasury estimates rose sharply, and in February 2003 it suggested that the war would cost £5.5bn in the worst possible case. According to the Ministry of Defence, the total cost of UK military operations in Iraq from 2003 to 2009 was £8.4bn."

Thousands of NHS samples ‘mislabelled’
– Channel 4 More 4 News 20/08/09
“Following an FOI request to every NHS trust in the UK, to which 120 trusts replied, it emerged that 365,608 specimens were mislabelled before they arrived at the pathology laboratories. In addition, 11,712 samples were incorrectly labelled by pathology lab staff. More4’s FOI investigation also revealed there were 46 recorded cases last year where mislabelling was found to have been related either to a patient death or a significant delay in patient treatment.”

Local authorities breach parking guidelines - The Times 18/08/09
“Six local authority councils have been accused by the consumer watchdog Which? of breaching Government guidelines by setting targets for the number of parking tickets issued by their wardens. A freedom of information request by Which? found that the councils - Basildon, Richmond upon Thames, Lewisham, Bromley, Shropshire and Carmarthenshire - all ‘expect a certain number of tickets to be issued.’ Setting such targets is against Department for Transport guidelines.”

Energy minister walks the talk as he shuns Government limo
- Click Green 17/08/09
“Records released under a Freedom of Information Act request showed that Energy and Climate Change Minister Lord Hunt walked to 24 official events and cycled to a further three. In the seven months up to May this year, Gordon Brown's green envoy used his ministerial car on 26 occasions to travel to meetings in Oxford and on the outskirts of London.”

The great police pay overtime bonanza - The Independent 17/08/09
“Britain's police constables are topping up their salaries by thousands of pounds every year – in some cases more than doubling their annual pay – by making large overtime claims, an investigation by The Independent has discovered. Freedom of information requests responded to by 35 of the 51 forces in England, Scotland and Wales showed that more than 12,000 PCs claimed more than £6,000 each in overtime last year – a 20 per cent increase on their salaries. Officers in some of the country's rural forces earned upwards of £25,000 in overtime alone. Nearly 500 made more than £15,000 on top of their salaries."

Banksy charged £1 for Bristol exhibition, insisted CCTV footage destroyed - The Times 13/08/09
“The feted street artist and collector’s favourite Banksy charged just £1 for staging an exhibition in his home town of Bristol on the condition that all CCTV footage of him preparing the show was destroyed. A Freedom of Information Act request revealed that the elusive artist, who can fetch up to £300,000 for a single work, agreed to the nominal fee from Bristol City Council even though the exhibition at the City Museum and Art Gallery is his largest ever.”

Foreign embassies owe £28 million in unpaid congestion charge
- Telegraph.co.uk 10/08/09
“The Foreign Office has taken over the collection of unpaid congestion charges and parking fines by overseas embassies in London which now stand at £28 million. The total has more than doubled from £12 million in the last 12 months according to figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.”

Regional

Thousands of Denbighshire pupils taught in prefabs - Denbighshire Visitor 02/09/09
“At least 90 schools in North Wales are relying on 157 temporary cabins – with some dating back to the 1960s. More than 3,000 children across the region are having lessons in them, figures released under the Freedom of Information Act show.”

Parents put kids at risk over seatbelts - Manchester Evening News 01/09/09
“Shocking figures obtained by the M.E.N. under the Freedom of Information Act show that 695 drivers were given fixed penalty notices by Greater Manchester Police over 18 months for not belting up children under three properly. And a further 832 people were fined £30 for failing to make a child aged between three and 14 wear rear seatbelts.”

The Met set: cops' £12.5m air fare bill - thelondonpaper 24/08/09
“Scotland Yard racked up a £12.5m bill flying officers around the world in just three years. Thousands of business-class trips were booked by the force to destinations such as the Caribbean and the Far East, with the most expensive being £9,300, a freedom of information­ request showed.”

Scotland

Record level of student hardship funding, say LibDems - The Herald 30/08/09
“The number of students applying for financial help because of hardship has reached a new high, it was claimed yesterday. A total of 14,386 students at Scottish universities applied for hardship funding in the academic year 2008-09… The figure, obtained by the Lib Dems through Freedom of Information, is an increase of more than 1000 from 2007-08, where there was a previous record high of 13,283 applications.”

Ministers go off the rails - Daily and Sunday Express 29/08/09
“Statistics released under Freedom of Information laws show half of Alex Salmond’s 16 ministers snubbed rail trips in favour of being ferried around in luxury limos. Transport Minister Stewart Stevenson has used the train more than all his SNP colleagues put together, according to the figures. But eight ministers, including cabinet secretaries Fiona Hyslop, Nicola Sturgeon and Kenny ­MacAskill, did not use the railways at all in 2008/9.”

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Updated ICO Freedom of Information guidance

The Information Commissioner's Office has recently updated the following FOI guidance:

Section 16 - Advice and assistance (AG23) – recently updated 1/07/09
Public interest test (AG3) – recently updated 1/7/09
Section 30 - Investigations (AG16) – recently updated 03/08/09
Section 31 - Law enforcement (AG17) – recently updated 03/08/09

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Using the FOI Act - courses for new & experienced requesters

Do you want to learn how to use the Freedom of Information Act? Are you already using the Act, but want to know more about how the Information Commissioner and Information Tribunal are interpreting key provisions?

The Campaign for Freedom of Information is running two half-day courses for FOI requesters in central London on 20 October 2009. The morning course will provide an introduction to the legislation covering both the Freedom of Information Act and the Environmental Information Regulations. The afternoon course will examine some of the key decisions made under the two regimes and explain how they can help you obtain information. Requesters can attend either or both courses.

Further information and details on how to book are available here.

16/9/09 UPDATE: Please note that the course on 20 October is now full up. However, if there is sufficient demand, we are proposing to run the course again on Wed 28th October 2009. Please let us know if you would be interested in attending the course on this date.