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FOI Disclosure Stories November 2009

Johnson discussed arts job with Wadley before it was advertised – Guardian 1/12/09
Boris Johnson discussed with Veronica Wadley whether she could apply for a senior arts job at a lunch held two weeks before it was advertised, according to correspondence released under freedom of information today…The 550 pages of correspondence released under FoI also reveal that Johnson’s private secretary had checked with Mirza [his cultural advisor] the legal position in terms of the appointment to check whether Forgan needed to attend alongside Johnson in the final round of interviews. Mirza confirmed it was a mayoral appointment. “Although not legally required to consult Boris agreed with Liz that they should find someone they both like.” Yet the mayor went over Forgan’s head to add Wadley to the final shortlist.

Thousands of cases dropped because of late paperwork – Telegraph 29/11/09
According to figures released under the Freedom of Information Act, 4,000 suspects failed to appear before magistrates because the Crown Prosecution Service did not get their files ready in time. But the CPS said the 4,000 represented only a fifth of a per cent of the total number of criminal cases dealt with in the courts. Of the 4,000, almost 100 were thought to be alleged sex attackers and 700 cases involved violent attacks, according to the figures, which relate to the past three years in England and Wales. Magistrates had no option but to reject CPS calls for repeated adjournments and throw out the cases when the paperwork did not materialise.

Whitehall hid evidence on Heathrow expansion – Times

Student visas ‘soar’ after change – BBC 22/11/09
“…figures subsequently obtained by the BBC under the Freedom of Information Act show there has been a sharp increase in the number of student visas granted in India and Bangladesh – two of the biggest centres for non-EU student visa applications. Between June and August 2008 (before the new system for students came into force), the British High Commissions in Mumbai, New Delhi and Dhaka issued 6,771 student visas. During the same period this year (under the new points-based immigration system), the three offices issued 19,950 visas.”

Royal Mint’s gold coin production more than quadruples
– Telegraph.co.uk 20/11/09
“Britain’s Royal Mint more than quadrupled its production of gold coins last quarter as uncertainty about the economic outlook fuels demand. Production at the mint climbed to 32,735.8 ounces in the third quarter from 7,500.2 ounces a year in the third quarter of 2008, when the banking crisis was already driving up demand. In the first nine months of the year production tripled to 100,391 ounces, according to data secured by Bloomberg News under a Freedom of Information Act request.”

Number of council-funded care users to rise – Local Government Chronicle 19/11/09
“Councils supplying information in response to an LGC freedom of information request revealed they are anticipating an average 10% increase in the number of residents meeting existing criteria for receiving home care at critical needs level over the next five years. And while the average weekly cost per person for home care services stands at £158, costs range from £69 to £233 at different councils. Councils released efficiencies of £2.2m on average from social care budgets in 2008-09. The figures demonstrate the increased pressure council home care services face and the difficulty of imposing a national system on to a highly complex set of local commissioning arrangements.”

Military personnel spend 141 days on Top Gear stunts
– Guardian Unlimited 18/11/09
“The Ministry of Defence has been forced to answer more awkward questions about how it allocates resources after admitting that military personnel spent the equivalent of 141 days taking part in stunts for the television show Top Gear. It has also deployed equipment worth billions of pounds in scenes for the show in the past five years…”

Student Loans Company paid £2m in bonuses says Williams – Liberal Democrat 16/11/09
“The Student Loans Company has paid out nearly £2m in bonuses to staff despite leaving more than 100,000 students waiting weeks to receive their loans this autumn, the Liberal Democrats have revealed. The figures, received following a Freedom of Information request, show that £1,893,000 was paid in bonuses between 2007 and 2009.”

Just seven out of Britain’s 248 senior officers serving in Afghanistan
– The Mirror 16/11/09
“Only seven of Britain’s most senior Army officers were last month serving in war-torn Afghanistan… A Freedom of Information Act request uncovered that out of a total of 248 senior officers there were just six brigadiers and one general based in Afghanistan during October.”

Speaker John Bercow’s official residence refurbished for £45,000 – Daily Telegraph 13/11/09
“The Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, has had his grace-and-favour Westminster apartment refurbished at a cost of £45,000 to the taxpayer. Mr Bercow ordered the makeover, covering work from child-friendly redecorating to new televisions and furniture, within weeks of his election as Speaker in June… The new documents, released under Freedom of Information laws, also disclose that Mr Bercow has spent almost £13,000 on entertaining and hospitality – including a three-night trip to Rome costing almost £4,000 – in just three months.”

(Commons Speaker denies the report. Read: Commons Speaker John Bercow in expenses row ITN 08:00 15-Nov-09 )

‘Dangerous’ speed camera rakes in £500000 a year
– Telegraph.co.uk 14/11/09
“A motorway speed camera blamed for causing accidents generates up to half a million pounds a year in fines. Crashes have risen by almost a quarter and casualties have almost doubled since the camera was installed on a busy stretch of the M11 in Essex, in 2000. Now, details revealed under Freedom of Information legislation, show that the device results in up to 9,000 speeding tickets a year, enough to raise around £500,000.”

Olympics bill creeps up £3bn to £12bn – Scotsman.com 08/11/09
“Government figures for the cost of the London Olympics have seriously underestimated the final bill by almost £3 billion. Figures released under the Freedom of Information Act show the cost to the public purse will overshoot the promised upper-limit of £9.3bn by almost a third, with an expected final bill of £12bn.”

Do cautions ‘deny victims justice’? – BBC 07/11/09
“Freedom of Information requests were sent to all police forces in England and Wales, asking how often cases of serious violence are punished by caution (cautions aren’t used in Scotland). The results from 39 of the 41 forces revealed that almost 39,000 cases of actual bodily harm (ABH) resulted in a caution last year. A further 739 cases of the more serious offence of grievous bodily harm also resulted in cautions.”

Police to learn drugs slang – Telegraph.co.uk 07/11/09
“Police officers are being issued with a list of almost 3,000 slang words and phrases associated with illegal drugs, in order to stay one step ahead of criminals. The document has been drawn up by the Police National Legal Database (PNLD) for use by all forces in England and Wales… On the list are around 250 words for heroin alone, including ‘old steve’, ‘nurse’, ‘lemonade’, ‘hairy’, ‘george’…”

Home Office covered up immigration risk – The Times 07/11/09
“Labour’s ‘open door’ immigration policy knowingly risked allowing dangerous people to settle in Britain unchecked, according to documents seen by The Sunday Times. The Whitehall correspondence, which was illegally withheld by the Home Office for four years, shows how ministers were told by the country’s most senior immigration official that his staff were to be “encouraged to take risks” when granting visas, work permits and extended residency to hundreds of thousands of new migrants.”

Scotland Yard riot squad faces calls to end ‘culture of impunity’ – Guardian Unlimited 06/11/09
“Scotland Yard faced calls for an ‘ethical audit’ of all officers in its controversial riot squad tonight after figures revealed that they had received more than 5,000 complaint allegations, mostly for ‘oppressive behaviour’. Details of all allegations lodged against the Metropolitan police territorial support group (TSG) over the last four years reveal that only nine – less than 0.18% – were ‘substantiated’ after an investigation by the force’s complaints department [according to the figures released under the FOI Act].”

Attack in NHS hospital ‘every three minutes’ – Telegraph.co.uk 04/11/09
“Someone is attacked in an NHS hospital in England every three minutes as doctors describe A&E departments as ‘war zones’, official figures show. Nearly 170,000 violent incidents take place in England’s NHS hospitals each year, data obtained under the Freedom of Information Act has revealed… There have been several murders and rapes at hospitals in recent years and thousands of attacks annually involve the use of knives and other weapons.”

Regional

Planners’ unrest over King Alfred
– The Argus 20/11/09
“The unrest among expert planners before the £290 million King Alfred development on Hove seafront was approved has finally been revealed. A letter signed by 11 members of Brighton and Hove City Council’s planning department, now made public, reveals they were concerned colleagues had been pressured into supporting the scheme against their own professional judgement. The council has fought for two years to keep the document secret, since The Argus requested a copy under the Freedom of Information Act in July 2007.”

Boris appoints Tate boss Serota to replace Rogers
– Building Design 19/11/09
“The Freedom of Information request also unearthed a string of earlier letters between the mayor and Rogers, who held an unpaid role in London government for nine years before stepping down last month. Over the course of more than a year, Rogers made a series of demands that were not met by the mayor, including direct access to Johnson and the establishment of a professional team of eight architects and a ‘full-time senior team leader’ under Rogers’ leadership.”

Police £18m bonus outcry
– Sheffield Star 11/11/09
“Police officers in South Yorkshire have earned nearly £18 million in bonuses over the last five years – prompting calls for bosses to spend the cash on employing more bobbies instead. Using The Freedom of Information Act, The Star has discovered that over the last five financial years police have been paid £17,843,712 on top of their salaries and overtime payments. Over the same period of time police officer numbers have steadily decreased, with bosses claiming they have had to axe posts to make the service more efficient.”

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