FOI disclosure stories 16-22 February 2009

Bank of England grandees see the world at taxpayers’ expense – The Daily Telegraph 21/2/09
“As companies in the private sector cut back sharply on the travelling expenses of even their most senior executives as the recession bites, grandees at the Bank of England have still been seeing a great deal of the world at considerable expense to the taxpayer. Charlie Bean, Gordon Brown’s old pal who declared the other day that the world was in the midst of ‘possibly the largest financial crisis of its kind in human history,’ has spent more than £19,410 on foreign travel since becoming deputy governor last July. He commands a salary of £181,561. Figures obtained under the Freedom of Information legislation show that Bean is not the only one to have been travelling quite a bit lately. Betweem them, Mervyn King, who, as governor, earns £290,653 and Sir John Grieve, the joint deputy governor on £240,330, together with Rachel Lomax and Sir Andrew Large, who have since stepped down as deputies, ran up a bill for overseas travel of £177,294 over the past three years.”

When did your cash go to Iceland?
– Channel 4 20/2/09
“Huge differences in when councils risked putting cash into doomed Icelandic banks have been unearthed by Channel 4 News online. While some authorities stopped putting taxpayers’ money into the high-interest accounts months or years before the Icelandic banks collapsed, some were still depositing cash in October last year, the month the institutions fell, our survey reveals. The details, obtained via Freedom of Information requests to all 104 councils with money in Icelandic banks, emerge as one expert warns that the chances of local authorities recouping a significant amount of their £900m frozen in the failed banks is becoming ‘less and less likely’.”

A&E Abuse Checks ‘Not Routine’ After Baby P
– Sky News 29/2/09
“Most Accident and Emergency departments do not routinely check if a child is known to be at risk of abuse or neglect, the Conservatives have said. The party obtained data under the Freedom of Information Act to find out how many checked if a youngster was subject to a child protection plan. Two-thirds of 104 hospital trusts questioned said they do not routinely check records to see if a child is already known to be at risk… But the Government said the figures were ‘meaningless’ as there was no national requirement to check every child coming into A&E.”

Reportedly missing – Jane’s Security News 19/2/09
“Last year, UK police forces received more than 220,000 missing person reports. This cost the police service nearly £20 million and, with officers investigating their disappearances, deprived communities of police time that could have been spent tackling crime and disorder. Police Review sent all forces in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland a request under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 for details of missing person reports, including how many each force received for the 2007/08 financial year. The 47 that responded received 225,156 reports.”

Drug abuse hampers Afghan police – BBC 18/2/09
“Sixty per cent of the Afghan police in the country’s southern province of Helmand use drugs, it is claimed. The estimate, made by a UK official working in the province, was contained in emails obtained by the BBC. International forces are fighting a fierce counter-insurgency campaign against Taleban militants and other insurgents in Helmand. ‘We are very concerned by the levels of drug abuse among the police,’ the British Foreign Office said in a statement. ‘The police are poorly paid, do high risk work and are poorly trained. There are high levels of corruption in the police as well as drug use and supporting counter-narcotics is a key priority for the UK,’ it said.”

WHO safe surgery checklists are not being followed by NHS trusts
– Nursing Times 17/2/09
“A quarter of NHS acute trusts have not introduced a new set of pre-operative checks that give greater responsibility to theatre nurses and operating assistants six months after they were launched, a Nursing Times investigation has revealed. Nursing Times conducted a Freedom of Information request of all trusts in England to find out whether they observed new one-page, safety checklist published in June 2008 by the World Health Organization. The checklist particularly recognises the contribution of each member of the surgical team, calling for more junior members of staff such as nurses and operating department practitioners to question surgeons’ decisions if necessary.”


‘Surprise’ at job centre assaults – BBCi 22/2/09
“Jobcentre Plus workers in Wales have suffered almost 2,400 physical or verbal assaults over the past three years, new figures reveal. Plaid Cymru AM Chris Franks, who requested the information under the Freedom of Information Act, said it was a “surprising level” of abuse. Incidents included verbal threats, aggressive behaviour, spitting and throwing items around the office. He also fears staff may face increased abuse as unemployment rises further.”

Westfield crime figures released
– Ealing Gazette 20/2/09
“Police were called to the Westfield shopping centre 386 times within the first three months of opening… The majority of the figures, obtained by the Freedom of Information Act, are for theft, which make up 276 of the figure – about 76 per cent of all the crimes at the mall in White City.”

2,400 litter louts are caught in crackdown – Peterborough Evening Telegraph 20/2/09
“More than 2,400 litter louts have been fined on the spot for dropping rubbish in Peterborough as part of a zero-tolerance crackdown to keep the streets clean which has earned Peterborough City Council almost £80,000 this year. Peterborough’s eagle-eyed ‘green police’ patrol the streets seven days a week, handing out on-the-spot £75 fines to anyone caught casually dropping sweet papers, fast food wrappers and even cigarette ends.”

Countess of Chester Hospital shells out millions in compensation to patients
– Flintshire Chronicle 20/2/09
“The Countess of Chester Hospital has revealed two patients each received more than £1m as compensation for clinical negligence in the last three years. Details released under the Freedom of Information Act show the hospital shelled out £1.9m to someone who received obstetric care in 2007 relating to an incident in 1995. And in 2006 a patient undergoing paediatric care received £1.3m, also relating to an incident in 1995… The figures were unveiled as the government admitted NHS negligence premiums will nearly double to £713m in the next financial year. The figure, released to the Conservatives in a parliamentary answer, is an increase from £396m paid by trusts in 2008-09.”

Nuneaton waste plant bid costs taxpayers £50k
– Coventry Telegraph 19/2/09
“The controversial application to site a toxic waste plant in Nuneaton cost the taxpayer £50,000… The sums involved were £667 for routine expenditure on the planning application, £5,929 for non-routine expenditure on this planning application, £50,000, the county council’s estimates of cost in staff time and £7,950 payment from TCSR to cover the costs of processing the application…”

Fire firings under fire from union Salford Advertiser
, Lancashire – News 14:02 19-Feb-09
“Firefighters have hit out at plans to make further cuts to Salford’s frontline crew and fire engines even though the county’s fire death toll is above the national average. Information obtained by the Fire Brigades Union under Freedom of Information laws show that 10 firefighters will be removed from Agecroft Fire Station and one fire engine will be removed from Eccles, Salford and Broughton fire stations three times a week as part of 50 frontline job losses across the county. Union members have slammed the authority for damaging an already failing service.”

DNA is a ‘breach of rights’
– Evening Advertiser 19/2/09
“Figures obtained by the Adver under the Freedom of Information Act have revealed that police in Swindon took and stored DNA samples from 10,697 people between April 2007 and December 2008. Of those people, only 2,689 people were actually charged with an offence. Swindon defence solicitor Rob Ross says the figures contravene a European Human Rights court ruling before Christmas, which said that storing fingerprints of people who have not been found guilty in a court of law is a ‘breach of rights’ and ‘not necessary in a democracy’.”

Foreign drivers escape speeding fines
– Norfolk Now 19/209
“Almost 250 drivers caught speeding on Norfolk’s roads escaped prosecution last year – because they were foreign. Figures released by police in response to a Freedom of Information (FOI) request show 248 vehicles with non-UK registration plates set off speed cameras in the county in 2008… The letter explains that fixed-penalty tickets for speeding can only be issued to drivers holding a UK licence, who live in the UK.”

City Airport to fine flights that breach curfew – Belfast Telegraph 19/2/09
“George Best Belfast City Airport today revealed that airlines which break its late night curfew will be fined — as it emerged there were more than 500 flights after the 9.30pm deadline last year [under the Freedom of Information Act].”

Health donations invested in chocolate company
– Gloucester Citizen 18/2/09
“Thousands of pounds of public donations to hospitals intended to help fight ill health have been invested in a chocolate company. Reports released under Freedom of Information laws reveal Gloucestershire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust General Charitable Fund, the body responsible for managing donations from satisfied patients and well-wishers, has used some of the cash to buy nearly £13,500 worth of shares in chocolate-maker Cadbury. The registered charity has also bought more than £70,000-worth of shares in failing banks HBOS and Royal Bank of Scotland.”

Derriford Hospital’s op cancellations among highest in the country – This is Plymouth 17/2/09
“Equipment failure, bed shortages and lack of staff at Derriford Hospital meant more than 600 cancelled operations last year. In the 2007/08 financial year, a total of 1,346 planned procedures were cancelled on the day of surgery, out of 56,145, at Plymouth Hospitals NHS Trust. The figure is one of the highest in the country.”

Police seize £1.3m from suspected criminals using Proceeds of Crime Act
– Wales Online 16/2/09
“More than £1m has been taken out of the pockets of suspected drug dealers, people smugglers and suspected terrorists to fight crime. The money was seized by South Wales Police between 2005 and 2009 under the Proceeds of Crime Act (POCA). Figures released to the Echo under the Freedom of Information Act, reveal that some of the money recovered was due to be used for terrorism.”

A Kentish Lad and baby lotion: Kingston council workers’ gifts revealed
– Your Local Guardian 16/2/09
“Body lotion, a baby outfit and a Siberian medal were among the gifts showered on Kingston Council officers. The register of interests for the past three years, which some councils publish routinely, was obtained by the Surrey Comet under Freedom of Information laws… Officers are advised to be careful when receiving gifts, particularly from contractors, and are forbidden from accepting money.”


Holyrood runs up £36k bill – The Scotsman 21/2/09
“Mobile phone bills totalling more than £36,000 [for 2007-08] were run up by staff working for ministers in the Scottish Government. Of the total, around £16,000 was spent on call charges, which suggests that the remainder was spent on text messaging and using Blackberries to surf the internet, it was reported today.”

No police speed penalties
– Dundee Evening Telegraph 16/2/09
“A Tayside Police officer was caught speeding at 144mph — but still escaped any penalty, an investigation by the Tele has revealed. Figures obtained under Freedom of Information legislation show the incident was just one of 250 when police vehicles were caught breaking the limit on Tayside’s roads last year — none of which led to prosecution… The news comes after it emerged the force’s Chief Constable Kevin Mathieson was caught driving at 72mph in a 60mph zone on the A9 near Kingussie.”

‘Feckless’ criminals cost courts nearly £2m – The Press and Journal 16/2/09
“Criminals who drag out court proceedings only to change their plea to guilty at the last minute cost taxpayers in the north, north-east and Tayside almost £2million last year. Figures obtained by the Press and Journal through freedom of information requests show 2,646 sheriff court cases were disposed of on the day they were scheduled to go to trial in Grampian, Tayside and the Highlands during 2007… Critics blamed the figures on ‘feckless’ criminals maintaining their innocence in the hope of their cases being abandoned and urged solicitors to do more to persuade their clients to admit their guilt at an early stage.”

Thatcher ordered report on cash cut for Scotland – The Scotsman 16/2/09
“A report commissioned by former prime minister Margaret Thatcher, now released under Freedom of Information legislation, identified ways of cutting Scottish expenditure, as determined by the controversial block grant and Barnett Formula. Written in 1986 by Brian Unwin, then deputy Cabinet secretary, the “Unwin Report” scrutinised spending levels in each part of the UK. Ministers were concerned that Scotland continued to receive disproportionate amounts of government cash despite a falling population. Mr Unwin suggested reducing the Scottish block either by updating its “baseline” figure or revising the Barnett Formula to take account of changes in population since 1979. A one-off adjustment to the baseline would cut Scottish spending by more than £400 million from 1986-89.”

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