Friday, February 25, 2011

FOI Disclosure Stories February 2011

Exclusive: 50,000 job losses uncovered by False Economy - False Economy 23/02/11
False Economy can reveal that more than 50,000 NHS staff posts are set for the axe, destroying government claims that the NHS is in safe hands. Our figures have been collated for the most part from the NHS trusts themselves under the Freedom of Information Act.

Radical new gateways reject one in eight GP referrals - Pulse 23/2/11
GP practices are seeing as many as one in eight of their referrals diverted or rejected, under radical new 'total referral management' schemes, a Pulse investigation reveals.

Pickles Under Fire From Tory-Led Councils – Sky News 22/02/11
Conservative-led councils have warned Communities Secretary Eric Pickles that "unfair" spending cuts will have "potentially devastating" consequences. The correspondence, released to Sky News under the Freedom of Information Act, lays bare the depth of frustration felt by local authorities.

Rise in teen pregnancy feared as roles are axed - Children & Young People Now 22/02/11
Teenage pregnancy co-ordinators across the country face job losses after many councils revealed they cannot afford to fund the role. Freedom of information requests sent to all local authorities in England have revealed that 50 out of the 86 councils that currently employ teenage pregnancy co-ordinators cannot commit to funding the posts for 2011/2012.

Lives put at risk as hospitals fail to fix safety problems
– The Telegraph 21/02/11
Half of the 406 NHS trusts in England are failing to comply with safety alerts, which cover everything from equipment failure to warnings on correct dosage, according to the charity Action against Medical Accidents.

Councils ‘missed’ £530m in taxes – BBC 18/02/11
Cash-strapped local authorities in England, Scotland and Wales failed to collect £530m in council tax in 2009-2010, a BBC investigation found. The figures were obtained through a Freedom of Information request.

Taxpayers paid £50m a year for non-existent operations
– The Telegraph 15/02/11
Under controversial minimum payment contracts, 25 independent sector treatment centres across England were paid a set amount, regardless of how many operations they actually carried out.

The Mystery of England’s 12,000 Vanishing Pupils – TES 11/02/11
Almost 12,000 children are officially "missing" from education, a TES investigation has revealed, with many at "serious risk" of physical, sexual and mental harm.

Racism on the Rise in Scotland – STV 11/02/11
Statistics revealed in a freedom of information request to Scotland's eight police forces showed that 6,171 incidents of racism were recorded in 2009/10 - a 20% increase in racist incidents over the past 12 months.

Danish pastries all round, advises handbook for first-time ministers – The Independent 06/02/11
Some of the most powerful politicians in the UK have been presented with an "idiots' guide" on how to run the country. The manual is one of 23 ministerial training documents obtained under Freedom of Information legislation.

Over half of all VAT decisions issued by HMRC found incorrect on appeal – UHY Hacker Young Chartered Accountants 24/01/11
Data obtained under the Freedom of Information Act shows that over the last 18 months HMRC completed 28,912 reviews of technical decisions and VAT penalties imposed on businesses, of which 16,270 were subsequently ruled incorrect.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Pickles: councils should allow meetings to be recorded

Communities and Local Government News
23 February 2011
Councils should open up their public meetings to local news 'bloggers' and routinely allow online filming of public discussions as part of increasing their transparency, Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles said today.
To ensure all parts of the modern-day media are able to scrutinise Local Government, Mr Pickles believes councils should also open up public meetings to the 'citizen journalist' as well as the mainstream media, especially as important budget decisions are being made.
Local Government Minister Bob Neill has written to all councils urging greater openness and calling on them to adopt a modern day approach so that credible community or 'hyper-local' bloggers and online broadcasters get the same routine access to council meetings as the traditional accredited media have.
The letter sent today reminds councils that local authority meetings are already open to the general public, which raises concerns about why in some cases bloggers and press have been barred.
For example Tameside Council has accredited professional journalists to report from meetings using Twitter. The decision means local bloggers, the public and even councillors are not permitted to tweet because they are not considered members of the press.
Eric Pickles said:
"Fifty years ago, Margaret Thatcher changed the law to make councils open their meetings to the press and public. This principle of openness needs to be updated for the 21st Century. More and more local news comes from bloggers or citizen journalists telling us what is happening at their local council.

"Many councils are internet-savvy and stream meetings online, but some don't seem to have caught up with the times and are refusing to let bloggers or hyper-local news sites in. With local authorities in the process of setting next year's budget this is more important than ever.

"Opening the door to new media costs nothing and will help improve public scrutiny. The greater powers and freedoms that we are giving local councils must be accompanied by stronger local accountability.

"We are in the digital age and this analogue interpretation of the press access rules is holding back a new wave of local scrutiny, accountability and armchair auditors."

The letter also reassured councils that giving greater access will not contradict data protection law requirements following concerns over personal information. In the majority of cases the citizen blogging about how they see the democratic process working is unlikely to breach the data protection principles.

Chris Taggart, of www.OpenlyLocal.com (external link), which has long championed the need to open council business up to public scrutiny, added:

"In a world where hi-definition video cameras are under £100 and hyperlocal bloggers are doing some of the best council reporting in the country, it is crazy that councils are prohibiting members of the public from videoing, tweeting and live-blogging their meetings.

"Councils need to genuinely engage their communities and giving wider access to their meetings through these technologies is one way they can do this."

Full press release here.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Campaign welcomes FOI changes in Protection of Freedoms Bill but calls for them to be extended

The Campaign for Freedom of Information has welcomed the changes to the Freedom of Information Act set out in the Protection of Freedoms Bill, published today.

Requiring public authorities to publish data sets proactively, under the ‘publication schemes’ that all authorities are required to have under the Act, was a positive step, the Campaign said. It was also helpful that when applying for datasets applicants would be entitled to specify that they be released in a reusable electronic format. The Campaign said that should prevent authorities deliberately turning a spreadsheet into a pdf, before releasing it, to stop requesters running their own analyses of the spreadsheet itself.

However, the Campaign said the Act’s provisions on the form in which information should be released needed further improvements, to allow requesters to specify that they wanted photocopies of original documents. At present, requesters can only express preference between obtaining information in hard copy or electronic form or inspecting records but are not entitled to specify that they want photocopies of actual correspondence or documents.

The new Bill also seeks to prevent authorities invoking copyright to prevent requesters republishing datasets released under the Act, where the authority is the copyright holder. The Campaign said this was a positive step which should be extended beyond datasets. Authorities frequently insist that requesters apply to them for a copyright license to reproduce information about the authorities’ own policies and performance. It said this was an unnecessary restriction which obstructs the use of information which has no commercial value to the authorities themselves.

The Campaign also welcomed the decision to bring companies that are jointly owned by several public authorities under the Act.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Training course on FOI decisions 19 May 2011

'Information Commissioner & Tribunal Decisions - what do they mean in practice?'

A half-day course in Central London 19 May 2011

The course deals only with recent decisions and does not repeat material covered in previous courses. It is aimed at experienced FOI practitioners and others with a good working knowledge of the FOI Act. Its exact content is dependent on the decisions that have been issued during the period, but typically covers issues such as: "fair" and "unfair" disclosures of personal data; the FOI/EIR borderline; the commercial interests and confidentiality exemptions; where the public interest line is being drawn; applying the cost limit, vexatious requests and advice and assistance.

The course will be presented by Maurice Frankel, the Campaign's director, who has worked in the field for 27 years.

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

Download the booking form http://www.cfoi.org.uk/pdf/foidecisions_may2011.pdf

4th Northumbria Information Rights Conference call for papers

I have been asked to post the following call for papers for the Fourth Northumbria Information Rights Conference, which takes place on Monday 6 June 2011 at Northumbria University, Newcastle Upon Tyne, UK.
The theme of the conference will be “Privacy, Openness and Accountability”. Our aim is to explore the relationships and tensions between these objectives in a multi-disciplinary forum. John Wadham, Group Legal Director of the Equality and Human Rights Commission will give the keynote address.

Those interested in presenting a paper are invited to submit abstracts as set out below.

The following topics will be explored within the overall theme, and papers will be grouped for presentation accordingly. Each speaker will be allotted 20 minutes for presentation of their paper plus time for round-table discussion:
  • Access to information (including, but not limited to, papers on freedom of information and access to environmental information, impact on government transparency and accountability, and subject access requests under the Data Protection Act 1998)
    Susan Wolf susan.wolf@northumbria.ac.uk 
  • Protecting personal privacy (including, but not limited to, papers on data protection and data security, confidentiality, the right to respect for privacy)
    Andrew Watson andrew3.watson@northumbria.ac.uk 
  • Information sharing (including, but not limited to, information sharing in the commercial context, electronic care records, information sharing to protect the vulnerable or to manage risk)
    Helen Morris helen.morris@northumbria.ac.uk 
This call is open to academics, postgraduate students and practitioners from all disciplines, but particularly law, politics, information science and records management. Please contact the convenor of your intended stream if you wish to discuss your idea for a paper before submitting an abstract.

Abstracts not exceeding 300 words should be submitted to the relevant stream convenor by 21 February 2011. Submission must be by Word document e-mail attachment to the stream convenor’s email address shown above and should include, in addition to the abstract, your title, name and organisation/institutional affiliation and your email address for correspondence.

If your proposed paper does not fall within one of the streams but is nonetheless relevant to the overall theme, please send your abstract to Helen Morris, details above, who should also be contacted with any general enquiries.

All proposals will be reviewed, and successful applicants will be notified at the latest by 1 April 2011.

Please note that speakers will not be exempt from the registration fee for the conference but will be entitled to the early registration discount. A booking form with full registration fees will be available in January 2011.

Please contact maureen.cooke@northumbria.ac.uk for any general enquiries about the conference or telephone 0191 243 7597.