Friday, January 11, 2013

FOI Media Update - December 14th to 31st 2012

A freedom of information request found that 850 staff have been given a total of £11 million to cover the costs of moving, as well as one-off payouts worth 10 per cent of their salary to encourage them to move north from London.

Employees from firms including British Gas, Shell and npower are being seconded to work at Department of Energy and Climate Change and, in most cases, are being paid by the government to do so. Documents released under the freedom of information rules reveal that almost two dozen employees from companies are working at the Department, and civil servants have travelled in the opposite direction to work for the companies.

Nearly 1,000 doctors and surgeons have criminal records including child porn and sexual assault offences. The figures have been revealed by the General Medical Council in response to a Freedom of Information request by the Daily Mirror.

Nearly 12,000 people over the past five years were wrongly labelled criminals due to inaccurate record checks, leading to £1.9m paid out in compensation. The figures, published by privacy and civil liberties campaign group Big Brother Watch after a freedom of information request, showed the most common errors involved information being disclosed by local police forces or the police national computer.

Statistics released by police forces under the Freedom of Information Act show that the phenomenon of social networking crime was comparatively minor in 2008 with 556 reports made to police . This year there were 4,908 reports in which Facebook and Twitter were a factor.

Mr Salmond had faced accusations of overseeing a "culture of secrecy" after claiming he holds no record of how many civil servants he has assigned to work on his blueprint for an independent Scotland.

The Liberal Democrats have hit out at the £500,000 a year cost to the NHS in Scotland for collecting and destroying unused prescriptions. The figures obtained by freedom of information cover the cost of medicines returned unused to pharmacies in 10 out of 14 health boards in 2011/12.

The public spending watchdog, The National Audit Office, is to investigate BBC severance packages after it emerged that almost 200 senior managers received pay-offs of more than £100,000 each in the past three years. Figures obtained under the Freedom of Information laws show that between 2010 and 2011 the cost of redundancy payments more than doubled to £58 million.

The number of teachers taking stress leave has increased by 10% over the past four years, with 15 local authorities seeing a 50% rise in stress-related absences, according to statistics released under the Freedom of Information Act.

A damning report by safety experts has revealed that staff at Britain's most important nuclear site did "not have the level of capability required to respond to nuclear emergencies effectively". In response to a freedom of information request, the Office for Nuclear Regulation said errors by senior fire officers in a preparedness exercise at Sellafield "could have led to delays in responding to the nuclear emergency and a prolonged release of radioactive material off-site".

Further secret lobbying written by Prince Charles letters could set government ministers against judiciary again if judges rule in favour of publication 'in public interest'. Cabinet ministers provoked an uproar earlier in the year when they overruled three judges and banned the disclosure of letters that could have cast doubt on the prince's neutrality. The judges had decided that the public had a right to see how the heir to the throne had been trying to sway government policy. Now the same judges are deciding whether a second set of letters sent by the prince should be published. If the judges decide that this second cache of letters should be published, the cabinet would then be faced with the prospect of having to veto their publication as well.

Figures obtained under Freedom of Information show that in the last three years police have used Tasers on at least 78 people to stop them from killing or otherwise hurting themselves. Mental health charities have criticised such use as being "completely inappropriate" actions on people "in great mental distress".

According to The Children's Society support for the 100,000 children who run away from home every year, many of them fleeing physical or sexual abuse, is extremely limited and in large parts of the country shows no signs of improving. The Society sent freedom of information requests to all 150 councils in England and the 43 regional police forces and found that two-thirds of the councils had no specific programme to help runaways, while a similar proportion was unable to provide emergency accommodation. Almost half of all police forces were unable to say how many children went missing in their area each year.

Tory MP Gavin Williamson has used the Freedom of Information Act to reveal the taxpayer funded authority in charge of West Midlands public transport spends almost £20,000 a year on lobbying politicians and promoting itself to government.

The Department for Education's difficulties with implementing the Freedom of Information Act have been re-emphasized in the most recent release of statistics on the performance of government departments. In the latest quarter it had the worst record out of all department in England for responding to FoI requests within the legal time limit. As a result the Department has been put under special monitoring by the Information Commissioner's Office.

In September the DfE abandoned the controversial legal case it had been fighting to try to establish that emails sent by ministers on personal accounts ere not covered by the FOI Act. The position was in defiance of the clear stance adopted by the Information Officer, who had already ruled that all emails sent on government business could fall under FOI, whether an official or private account was used.

Three other public authorities have also been targeted by the ICO for close monitoring due to their unsatisfactory handling of FOI applications.

Scotland's councils have spent nearly £150 million on credit cards including transactions for skateboards, the rights to screen the film Grease and thousands of pounds in unexplained cash withdrawals. Official figures were obtained by the Conservatives under the Freedom of Information Act.

A Freedom of Information Act request by the BBC found the lifting bridge linking Poole port and Hamworthy closed 38 times in its first six months. The bridge opened in April after being beset by delays and unexpected closures. Poole Borough Council says the town's Twin Sails Bridge is something to be proud of, despite its early problems.

The Government has published proposals in response to a committee of MP's  report on the working of the Freedom of Information Act.

Changes to the cost cap on requests could radically cut the proportion of requests under the FOI legislation that are answered. 

Other changes would allow officials to add into the cost their "thinking time" when deciding to give answers further limiting the information that would be released. This proposal is of particular concern to The Campaign for Freedom of Information. Its director, Maurice Frankel, said, "The longer an authority needs to think about a request, the greater the chance of it being able to refuse to answer on cost grounds".

Information released through FOI have formed the basis of some of the biggest stories in recent years, notably the revelations concerning MP's expenses, which were revealed in 2009.

NHS hospitals deal with private firms to buy and sell patient care and treatment services worth more than £500m.

Freedom of information requests to more than 100 NHS trusts revealed hospitals were spending millions of pounds buying beds in private hospitals, often to bring down long waiting lists.

In some cases the NHS draws a veil of secrecy over the state's relationships with the private sector. Some trusts simply refused to name which companies they were spending tax pounds with for patient care, claiming that to do so would "prejudice commercial interests".

Freedom of information proposals attacked - Financial Times - 18.12.12

Government plans to amend the Freedom of Information Act could make it hard for people to get answers to complex or contentious requests, the Campaign for Freedom of Information has said. The changes could see time-consuming information requests refused because authorities would be allowed to take account of the cost of considering applications and deleting exempt data, as well as the time it takes to find documents.

The government is also proposing to allow authorities to combine the cost of unrelated freedom of information requests from the same individual or organisation - making it more likely that requests could exceed cost limits.

£18million in benefits paid to prisoners has not been recovered - London Evening Standard - 16.12.12

More than £18 million in benefits wrongly paid to prisoners in the past four years has not been clawed back. The figures, revealed by a freedom of information request by the Mail on Sunday, show that between 2007 and 2011 overpayments as a result of "customers being in prison" were made worth £31.7 million but only £13.1 million was recovered - a shortfall of £18.6 million.

Lancashire PCC Clive Grunshaw faces expenses probe - BBC - 17.12.12

Lancashire's police and crime commissioner Clive Grunshaw is facing questions about his expenses while a councillor and police authority member following a freedom of information request from Conservative councillor.

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