FOI disclosure stories 2 – 8 February 2009

Labour areas receive FOUR times more Lottery cash than Conservative constituencies – The Daily Mail 08/2/09
“Labour-held constituencies have a far better chance of winning generous Lottery grants than Conservative or Liberal Democrat areas, a new analysis reveals. Figures unearthed using the Freedom of Information Act show that among those areas receiving the most cash from the Big Lottery Fund last year Labour seats outnumbered Conservative by almost four to one. The five best-funded areas were all Labour constituencies. The study plotted all the UK Parliamentary constituencies which received grants totalling more than £1million last year from the Big Lottery Fund… Out of the 117 best-funded seats 74 were found to be Labour-held, compared with just 20 each for the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, and three for Scottish or Welsh nationalists.”

Half of all maternity units turned away new admissions last year, figures reveal
– The Daily Mail 08/2/09
“Almost half of maternity units closed their doors to new admissions at least once in the last year, figures showed today. Data obtained by the Conservatives under the Freedom of Information Act found that many health trusts across England had been forced to shut because they were full or had too few staff… An analysis of the data showed that 50 trusts (48 per cent) that responded had closed their maternity unit or had been forced to divert women to another site. Shadow health secretary Andrew Lansley said… “The Government must increase midwife numbers as they promised; make sure local maternity units get their fair share of NHS funding; and sort out their disastrous negotiation of EU rules on doctors’ working hours.”

Favouring Particular Patients “Carries Risks”, Warns MDDUS – Medical News Today 06/2/09
“GPs who favour particular patients or offer preferential treatment or advice could risk a GMC hearing, or even face a charge of discrimination in court, warns the Medical and Dental Defence Union of Scotland (MDDUS) today… The MDDUS knows of one case where a GP retained a friend on a practice’s list after the friend moved out of the practice area. Another patient, who also moved, was automatically removed from the practice’s list but got wind of the favouritism enjoyed by the first patient. They submitted a request for the practice policy on removals under the Freedom of Information Act.”

The cost of government flights: £18.5m – 06/02/09
“The government spent £18.5 million on flights last year, casting doubt on its commitment to budgeting and reducing carbon emissions. The Taxpayers’ Alliance carried out the first Whitehall-wide report on flight spending, collating data for the 2008 period. The report, which looked at 13 government departments’ flight expenditure using the Freedom Of Information Act, also found the majority of tickets purchased were for first or business class. £10.6 million was spent on first or business travel seats, more than half the total spent.”

Corruption team spends up to £250,000 in wages – Guardian Unlimited 06/2/09
“The investigation team set up by City of London Police to look into alleged corruption in football has so far cost the taxpayer up to £250,000 in wages alone. The figures, obtained from City of London Police’s freedom of information department, shed new light on the public expense of Operation Apprentice, which started in April 2007 and is expected to continue for at least another three months. The time and expense involved in the investigation, which has yet to lead to any charges being brought against the eight people who remain on bail, drew criticism…”

ID cards are here – but police can’t read them – 04/2/09
“The first UK ID cards have already been issued – but no UK police officers or border guards have any way of reading the data stored on them. Currently no police stations, border entry points or job centres have readers for the card’s biometric chip, the Identity and Passport Service (IPS) revealed in response to an FoI (Freedom of Information) request by about the £4.7bn identity cards scheme. The news comes in spite of the first ID cards being issued to foreign nationals in November last year, with the IPS expecting to issue 50,000 ID cards by April this year… With no readers in place, police and immigration officers are currently still relying on traditional methods of checking ID cardholders’ identity, running a fresh set of prints against existing identity databases.”

NHS refusing to let patients opt out of Summary Care Record – Pulse 03/2/09
“NHS bosses leading the rollout of the Summary Care Record are refusing to take no for an answer from patients who say they want to opt out, Pulse can reveal… Documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show NHS Lincolnshire, one of the first trusts to adopt the care record, wants GPs to hand over patients’ details, so they can be invited ‘to the surgery to discuss it further’. The documents also reveal that when the PCT writes to patients, it will put the practice logo on letters so that they are sent ‘as if from the practice’. Dr Neil Bhatia, a GP in Yateley in Hampshire who has already opted out hundreds of his patients, warned handing over names of dissenting patients would be ‘a gross breach of confidentiality.’
Social worker shortage ‘a crisis’ – BBC 3/2/09
“One in seven social worker posts across England is unfilled as a “real crisis” grips the profession, the Tories say. They say figures suggest a third of posts were unfilled at several councils in November 2008 – just before the Baby P abuse case became public…The Conservatives’ figures, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, suggest that across England the national vacancy rate is 14%, up from 11% in 2005.”

£65k on Beeb Xmas parties – The Sun 02/2/09
“BBC chiefs were under fire yesterday after it emerged £65,000 of licence-payers’ cash went on Christmas parties. Figures obtained by The Sun using the Freedom of Information Act reveal the Beeb splashed out £34,851 on bashes for TV crews and £30,375 for radio staff. News of the spending comes just weeks after the corporation said it needed to recoup a £140million budget shortfall over five years.”


Birmingham City Council is criticised for spending £275,000 on public relations agencies – The Sunday Mercury, Birmingham 02/2/09
“Birmingham city council has been slammed by critics for spending over a quarter of a million pounds on external spin doctors in the last two years. Figures released to the Sunday Mercury under the Freedom of Information Act show the local authority has spent just over £275,000 on public relations agencies since 2007. The cash was spent despite the council having an internal press office manned by 10 full-time staff, headed up by Canadian spin doctor Debra Davis who joined in 2006 and who is believed to earn a six-figure salary.”

Number of emergency stop and searches in Croydon soars
– This is Croydon Today 08/2/09
“The number of emergency stop and search orders issued by police in Croydon has shot up over the last two years. Figures obtained by the Advertiser under the Freedom of Information Act show that in 2008, the Met Police approved 99 orders. This compares with just eight in 2005 and 15 in 2006. With normal stop and searches police can only search the specific individual they fear is carrying a weapon, drugs or stolen goods. An emergency stop and search differs in that it allows officers to search anyone in the area.”

Closures leave £800k in unpaid taxes
– Wakefield Express 06/2/09
“Council bosses are being forced to write off eye-watering amounts in unpaid business taxes when city firms go bust. In the past three years, Wakefield Council has written off £803,371 in National Non-Domestic Rates (NNDR) which would otherwise be returned to central government. Figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act reveal that £274,800 was written off in the financial year 2005/06, followed by £253,483 and £280,854 in the following two years.”

Depressed and psychotic patients face two-year wait – Warrington Guardian 05/2/09
“Severely depressed and psychotic patients are facing two-year waiting lists for life-changing treatment. Enhanced day therapy can potentially save the lives of people with acute mental health problems, but the waiting list is currently two years long, a Freedom of Information request by the Warrington Guardian has revealed.”

Knives confiscated from people in court—then handed back!
– East London Advertiser 05/2/09
“The weapons are routinely confiscated by security staff at Thames Magistrates’ court, but then handed back when the knife owners leave the building—just a stone’s throw from Bow police station. The practice was uncovered in a ‘Freedom of Information’ request which revealed 38 people had turned up to the courthouse in the Bow Road last year carrying knives. As many as 27 of the 38 knives confiscated were actually handed back afterwards—because the blades were less than the 3½ins long, which is legally permitted to be carried.” 

AM calls on Government to name and shame employers not paying minimum wage
– Wales Online 05/2/09
“Nearly 300 employers in the Cardiff area have been caught not paying the minimum wage, it has been revealed. The figure has come to light after Plaid Cymru AM Leanne Wood won a secrecy battle against HM Revenue & Customs for the release of information on the locations of employers who fail to comply with the law… Ms Wood argued that the names of all employers who had been caught not paying the minimum wage should be publicised.”

Stack overtime cost taxpayers £600,000 last year
– Kentish Express 04/2/09
“The police overtime bill for Operation Stack was more than £625,000 in 2008, the Kentish Express can reveal. The figure was five times as much as it was three years ago, figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act reveal. Stack, which is brought in when bad weather or industrial action blocks the Channel ports causing a backlog of lorries that have to be “stacked” on the M20, was implemented 21 times last year and cost £625,309 in police and support staff overtime. In 2005 Stack was implemented 18 times and cost £123,000 in overtime.”

Fewer sick days for police officers
– Nottingham Evening Post 04/2/09
“The number of sickness days taken by Notts police officers has fallen by 22% in the past five years, according to new figures [obtained under a Freedom of Information Act request]. They were off ill 21,924 days between April 1, 2007, and March 31, 2008, down from 28,086 between April 1, 2003, and March 31, 2004.”

West Midlands Police spend £10k on flatpack PCs
– Birmingham Mail 03/2/09
“Police have spent thousands of pounds on cardboard coppers. According to figures released under the Freedom of Information Act, West Midlands Police have spent £10,000 on flat pack PCs – the most spent by any force in the country. The force stressed the 80 cardboard cutouts of bobbies were designed as recruitment stands. But they also proved successful in scaring off crooks and keeping a lid on crime. According to the figures, 13 police forces in England and Wales had spent more than £20,000 on the cut-outs.”

Stormont makes savings on bright Christmas
– Belfast News Letter 03/2/09
“A Freedom of Information request submitted by the News Letter has revealed that brightening the corridors of power over the seasonal period cost the taxpayer £2,725.39. This is in marked contrast to the year before, when the display of decorations cost £5,524.69.”

Sex hate crimes go up by a quarter – Lancashire Evening Post 03/2/09
“Crimes committed against people in the county because of their sexual orientation have increased by more than a quarter, compared to four years ago. There are now almost seven incidents reported every week, a Freedom of Information investigation has revealed. According to latest figures, between April 1, 2007 and March 31, 2008, there were 353 homophobic hate crimes recorded in the county, compared to 282 in 2004/5 – an increase of just over 25%.”

Hundreds of police officers escape speeding fines – Yorkshire Post 02/2/09
“Hundreds of West Yorkshire police officers escaped speeding fines after being caught driving too fast on non-emergency calls, it has been revealed. Speed cameras captured 437 police drivers breaking official limits over the past two years, according to information obtained under the Freedom of Information Act. But only 29 officers paid a £60 penalty, with 390 claiming they were exempt from the charge because they were on “urgent police duties”.”

Few convictions for dog attacks – Waltham Forest Guardian 02/2/09
“Two people are attacked by dogs every month, yet there are few prosecutions, new figures [obtained using the Freedom of Information Act] show. Last year, from January to November, there were 22 reports of dog attacks against people in Waltham Forest, yet just four prosecutions for offences under the Dangerous Dogs Act.”


Third of students are given first-class degree
– The Sunday Times – News 08/2/09
“A third of students are being awarded first-class honours degrees in some subjects at Scotland’s leading universities, prompting claims that marks are being manipulated to inflate grades. The number of firsts — formerly the gold standard of higher education — has risen significantly in the past five years, say figures published today under the freedom of information act. At Edinburgh nearly a quarter (22%) of students across all subjects were awarded firsts last year, up from 17% in 2004. At St Andrews, Scotland’s oldest university, 19% of students received firsts last year, up 6%, while at Glasgow and Aberdeen the proportion of students given firsts rose from 14% to 16% and 10% to 13% respectively.”

Revealed: how primaries are failing Scots pupils – The Sunday Times 08/2/09
“Scotland’s education system is failing tens of thousands of pupils who are starting secondary school without a basic grounding in literacy or numeracy, according to new figures published today. Up to a third of schools in some local-authority areas fail to achieve a 50% success rate in getting pupils to the minimum level of writing by the end of primary seven (P7). Dozens of schools failed to teach more than half of their pupils the basics in reading and mathematics, according to figures obtained by The Sunday Times under the Freedom of Information Act.”

Fishing club wins £4000 for river pollution
– The Scottish Herald 06/2/09
“Anglers on a Clyde tributary have won £4000 from Scottish Water in an out-of-court settlement after it dumped sewage sludge into their river, wiping out the fish stock. But the fishermen and anti-pollution campaigners say the fines levied on offenders are too low to act as a meaningful deterrent. Statistics obtained by the anglers under the Freedom of Information Act show Scottish Water has been prosecuted 67 times in 10 years for waste water offences… According to the statistics obtained by the club, the water authority had paid more than £360,000 in fines for waste water offences in more than 10 years. The average was less than £5000.”

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