Wednesday, April 13, 2011

FOI Disclosure Stories March 27th-April 13th

GPs face bans on high-cost drugs – Pulse 12/04/11
GPs are being banned from prescribing high-cost drugs approved by NICE as NHS managers seek drastic savings on prescribing budgets. Responses from 134 PCOs under the Freedom of Information Act show that more than half have blacklists of drugs – in some trusts of more than 100 – that GPs are banned from prescribing.

Musa Kusa linked to lawyer’s killing in London – The Times 10/04/11 (subscription only)
Former Libyan foreign minister was linked to the murder of a Libyan lawyer in London, according to a previously unseen police report. The revelation, in documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, comes amid mounting pressure on the government to prosecute Kusa.

Britain Privatises war-zone intelligence… at a cost of £240m – The Times 08/04/11 (subscription only)
Intelligence in Afghanistan is being gathered by security companies as the contracting-out of military duties becomes much more commonplace. MPs are now examining the growing scope of the contracts, obtained by The Times under the Freedom of Information Act.

Salmon & Trout Association exposes sham of salmon farming industry claims – Salmon & Trout Association 07/04/11
Dossier of material obtained under freedom of information reveals alarming results of Government inspections of Scottish salmon farms including high levels of sea-lice - the major concern for wild fish conservation.

NHS missing out on £5.5m a year in potential savings – Royal College of Nursing 06/04/11
The Royal College of Nursing has revealed that the NHS could potentially save up to £5.5 million a year if health organisations improve the way they dispose of waste. The RCN submitted a Freedom of Information to investigate and subsequently produced a report, Freedom of Information report on waste management. Read the report here.

Rarer Cancers Foundation Report warns of growing cross-border divide in cancer services – Rarer Cancers Foundation 06/04/11
A new RCF report has found that patients in Wales are being denied life-extending cancer treatments which would be made available to them elsewhere in the UK. The figures have come to light under Freedom of Information requests.

Surgery blunders hospital tightens checks – Yorkshire Post 04/04/11
A hospital trust in Yorkshire has paid out a total of almost £1.2m in compensation to women who were left in pain and in some cases scarred for life after their breast operations were botched by the same surgeon. New figures obtained under FOI reveal that a total of £1,189,054 has been paid by the Foundation Trust to 26 women.

Met hacking inquiry chief dined with NOTW staff – The Independent 01/04/11
The police chief who headed Scotland Yard’s inquiry into phone-hacking dined with the News of the World at the height of his criminal investigation into the newspaper. Its disclosure in a Freedom of Information request prompted claims that the force had an unduly “cosy relationship” with News International.

Labour claims police officers will be forced to retire – BBC 29/03/11
Although police officers cannot be made redundant, officers with 30 or more years' experience can be made to retire under existing regulations. Labour said details obtained under Freedom of Information showed 13 forces definitely intended to use this power and that 1,138 officers either have or will be forced to retire by 2015.

MoD pays £1.3m compensation to Afghans for death, injury and damage – The Guardian 28/03/11
Ministry of Defence payouts include £542 for a girl killed in a fire and £4,700 for a shop destroyed by a flare. The list of all claims that were settled or rejected in 2010 has been released after the Guardian made a freedom of information request to the MoD. Read the full list here.

‘This is damning evidence of the dangers of handing control of public services to private firms’ – The Herald 27/03/11
A massive £4.8 billion of public money is being paid to multinational corporations to run water-works that are plagued with breakdowns and pollution. Details of the problems are disclosed in hundreds of internal documents released by Scottish Water to an industry researcher at Strathclyde University under FOI laws.

Foreign Office ‘backed BP in Rosneft talks’ – The Sunday Telegraph 27/03/11
Efforts by BP to hammer out its $16bn (£10bn) share swap and Arctic exploration deal with Russian energy group Rosneft had the full support of the Foreign Office. A series of meetings between the British ambassador in Moscow and BP executives covering discussions about a Rosneft tie are listed in censored cables released under the Freedom of Information Act.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Authorities facing regulatory action for FOI delays

The Information Commissioner's Office has announced that several public authorities, including the Cabinet Office and Ministry of Defence, are facing regulatory action for failing to reduce the time they take to respond to Freedom of Information requests:
The ICO monitored the performance of 33 public authorities for a period of three months, following concerns about delays in their responses to FOI requests. Of the 33 authorities, the ICO is in discussions with several organisations about the improvements they still need to put in place. The Commissioner has particular concerns about delays at the Cabinet Office, the Ministry of Defence and Birmingham City Council. Discussions on appropriate regulatory action are now taking place.

Four other authorities - the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham, the London Borough of Islington, Wolverhampton City Council and Westminster City Council - have been asked to sign undertakings to improve their performance in this area.

The remaining 26 authorities have maintained or improved their response times sufficiently, and no action is being taken against them. However, the ICO has sent letters to the Home Office, the Metropolitan Police Service, NHS North West, the London Borough of Croydon, the Scotland Office and the London Borough of Newham to put on record that, while all of them are now meeting the required standard, the monitoring has revealed some areas of concern.

Information Commissioner, Christopher Graham, said:

“I am delighted that over two thirds of the authorities whose performance we have been monitoring have managed to overcome their problems. However, the remaining authorities have not done enough to convince us that they have a clear and credible plan for getting back on track. Over the next four weeks, we shall be discussing appropriate next steps with them.”
The ICO has also published its latest list of authorities whose performance is being monitored. These are:

  • Barnsley Metropolitan Council
  • City of London Police
  • Cornwall Council
  • Department for Education
  • East Lancashire NHS Trust
  • Equality and Human Rights Commission
  • Highways Agency (an Executive Agency of the Department for Transport)
  • Kent County Council
  • Kirklees Council
  • London Borough of Southwark
  • NHS South West London (Wandsworth Borough Team – formerly NHS Wandsworth)
  • North East Lincolnshire Council
  • North Somerset Council
  • Nottingham City Council
  • Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames
  • Surrey County Council
  • Surrey Police
  • Waveney District Council

Compromise agreements prohibiting ex-employees from making FOI requests

Paul Cardin has been highlighting the fact that two councils (Cheshire West & Chester Council and Brent Council) have, as part of compromise agreements reached with former employees, imposed restrictions which prohibit them from making requests under the Freedom of Information and Data Protection acts. The Information Commissioner's Office has advised Paul that, in such situations, an ex-employee could still exercise their right to make requests and the authority would likely be in breach of the legislation if it refused to deal with them. However, if they did so, there may be legal consequences such as action for breach of contract. The issue has been covered by the Chester Chronicle, Roy Greenslade of the Guardian and by David Higgerson.

Paul has received legal advice and is now pursuing a claim against Cheshire West and Chester Council.
Further details about Paul's case are on his website:

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Reception to celebrate the life of Peter Forsskal

The Swedish and Finnish Embassies in London are jointly hosting a symposium and reception, on Thursday 7th April 2011 to celebrate the life of Peter Forsskal (1732 -1763).

He is the author of Thoughts on Civil Liberty (1759), which has recently been translated for the first-time ever into English (working from the uncensored manuscript). Forsskal advocated access to information and freedom of expression, writing
it must be possible for society’s state of affairs to become known to everyone, and it must be possible for everyone to speak his mind freely about it… Matters of war and some foreign negotiations need to be concealed for some time and not become known by many, but not account of proper citizens however, but because of the enemies
His words were an intellectual catalyst for the Swedish Freedom of the Printing Press Act 1766, the world’s first freedom-of-information law.

As well as being a social philosopher, Forsskal was a botanist and zoologist - a ‘disciple’ of Carl Linnaeus. He travelled to Egypt and (modern-day) Yemen 250 years ago as a member of an expedition organised by the King of Denmark. He died in Yemen in 1763, possibly from malaria.

Thoughts on Civil Liberty is available at (also in French, Spanish and Russian; the German version is from the censored manuscript. An Arabic translation is being launched on June 14th).

Monday, April 04, 2011

Campaign says measures to remove copyright restrictions on datasets could be easily circumvented

The Campaign for Freedom of Information has expressed concern that the measures to remove copyright restrictions on datasets in the Protection of Freedoms Bill could be easily circumvented and has called for copyright to be removed on all information released under the FOI Act, except material which a public authority is commercially exploiting.

The Campaign's concerns are set out in a submission to the Commons' committee dealing with the Protection of Freedoms Bill. It follows the Campaign's oral evidence to the Committee on 24 March 2011. You can watch the evidence session here or read a transcript here.

Friday, April 01, 2011

Using your FOI rights, Glasgow 4 June 2011

The Campaign for Freedom of Information in Scotland is providing a half-day training course for Freedom of Information requesters in Glasgow on 4 June 2011. The course, which covers both the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act and the parallel Environmental Information (Scotland) Regulations, will provide an introduction to the legislation and tell you how to use it.

The course will explain:

  • What information you are entitled to - and from whom
  • How to make an effective request
  • Key pitfalls and how to avoid them
  • What authorities should do to help you
  • When requests can be refused on cost grounds
  • How the Act's exemptions and the public interest test work
  • How to challenge refusals

The course will be presented by Carole Ewart, Co-convener of the Campaign for Freedom of Information in Scotland, David Goldberg, a law lecturer and information rights campaigner, and Chris Bartter, who recently retired after 20 years as Communications Officer for UNISON Scotland, a union which has been a major user of FOI in its campaigns.

Further details here.