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FOI Disclosure Stories January 2010

Salaries of ‘fat cat’ principals on the rise – Times 31/1/10
“The salaries of the best-paid state school headteachers have risen to almost £200,000, overtaking the pay packet of the headmaster of Eton College, according to new figures released under the Freedom of Information Act. The data show that two principals at academies, Labour’s semi-independent state comprehensives, were paid between £190,000 and £199,999 in 2008/09…According to a study received last week, the average secondary school head earns £74,000.”

CCTV in the sky: police plan to use military -style spy drones – Guardian 23/1/10
“Police in the UK are planning to use unmanned spy drones, controversially deployed in Afghanistan, for the “routine” monitoring of antisocial motorists, protesters, agricultural thieves and fly-tippers, in a significant expansion of covert state surveillance…Documents from the South Coast Partnership, a Home Office-backed project in which Kent police and others are developing a national drone plan with BAE, have been obtained by the Guardian under the Freedom of Information Act.They reveal the partnership intends to begin using the drones in time for the 2012 Olympics. They also indicate that police claims that the technology will be used for maritime surveillance fall well short of their intended use – which could span a range of police activity – and that officers have talked about selling the surveillance data to private companies.”

Asylum-seeking children are going missing from care – BBC 21/1/10
“At least four children a week who are seeking asylum go missing from the care of local authorities, a BBC investigation has discovered. A total of 330 children aged between nine and 17 vanished between April 2008 and August 2009. Social workers believe many children were targeted for prostitution by traffickers exploiting asylum rules…The exclusive figures were gathered using Freedom of Information requests to local authorities by The Report and voluntary group the Care Leavers’ Association.”

Two thirds’ of London nurses without swine flu jab – BBC UK 21/01/10
“Just one in three nurses in London have been vaccinated against swine flu, the NHS has admitted. A BBC London Freedom of Information request has shown the majority of medical staff remain unprotected against the virus. Although swine flu rarely kills healthy adults, it is dangerous to many patients in hospitals. NHS London insisted the vaccine take-up was “encouraging” and rising, with more than 60,000 staff having had the jab.

Homeless turn to A&E for help – Independent 16/1/10
“The problem of homeless people sleeping on Britain’s streets may have been transferred to hospitals, according to a new study. Although the Government claims that the number of people sleeping rough has fallen by three-quarters since 1988, figures obtained from 173 hospital trusts under the Freedom of Information Act reveal mounting pressure on the NHS from the homeless. In England, a homeless person is admitted to hospital for problems related to drugs or alcohol every three hours. A total of 13,872 people with “ no fixed abode” were admitted to hospital over the last five years for drug or alcohol misuse. Total drug and alcohol related admissions of homeless people have risen by 117 per cent since 2004.”

Council pension deficit ‘set to double to £60bn’ – BBC UK 15/01/10
“Pensions spokesman Steve Webb said figures he had obtained suggested the deficit might have doubled since it was valued at £27bn in 2007. It comes as the government considers changes to pension funding which may include higher staff contributions. Like most pension providers, councils have been hit hard by poor investment returns and longer lifespans (…) Using the Freedom of Information Act, Mr Webb obtained internal estimates from some councils, which showed:
– 83 of 87 local authorities were in deficit at their last official valuation in 2007 before the stock market slump and recession.
– Since then, 10% of funds have conducted their own valuations which showed deficits have grown by more than 280% on average.
The Lib Dems said if this was replicated across all pension funds, the next valuation – due in March – would uncover a deficit of more than £60bn.”

Campbell faces Iraq inquiry amid new claims he made dodgy dossier ‘match Bush speech’- Mail Online 11/01/10
“Alastair Campbell started to give evidence at the Iraq Inquiry today amid fresh claims about the way he ‘sexed up’ Tony Blair’s dodgy dossier on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. … Newly-released papers suggest that the former Downing Street spin doctor demanded the inclusion of exaggerated American claims about Saddam Hussein’s weapons programmes.Documents published under the Freedom of Information Act show that the dossier’s estimate of how long it would take Iraq to build a nuclear weapon was halved in response to a speech by George W Bush.”

SFO forced to write off £1.2m on failed IT plan- The Times 2/01/10
“The Serious Fraud Office (SFO) has been forced to write off £1.2 million spent on an abandoned IT project that was designed to improve its management of complicated cases. Freedom of Information requests submitted by The Times reveal that a £1.2 million write-off in the SFO accounts for 2008-09 was for an aborted IT development project that represented ‘the early build of a casemanagement system intended to replace the existing system’.”

Social workers’ stress epidemic feared- The Guardian 1/1/10

“Unions and council managers have warned of an epidemic of stress among social workers after the head of one of the country’s biggest social work departments said his staff currently take an average of five weeks off sick each year. Research carried out in September by the Liberal Democrats, based on freedom of information requests, found that social workers nationally take almost 12 days off sick each on average, while the profession had 2,700 vacancies.”

Regional

Privatisation deal will cost at least £12.8m – thisislocallondon.co.uk 25/1/10
“A controversial services contract between computer giant IBM and Essex County Council will cost the taxpayer at least £12.8million and could last for as long as 12 years, the Guardian can reveal. The privatisation scheme, which has been shrouded in secrecy since it was ratified last month, is being introduced in an attempt to save the authority money by identifying areas for “efficiency” cuts. Under the terms of the contract, IBM will review all services the council provides, before stepping in to make suggestions for savings, and could potentially see the company help run the district’s schools, roads and libraries. The deal, the first of its kind in the UK, was earmarked to last for eight years, but a Freedom of Information request by the Guardian has revealed that a clause in the contract allows it to be extended for a further four years at the authority’s discretion.”


Some Wales childcare complaints ‘not fully’ looked into
– BBC 24/1/10
“Concerns have been raised after it emerged complaints against childcare providers in parts of south Wales were not fully investigated by a regulator. The Conservatives said the Care and Social Services Inspectorate Wales (CSSIW) was guilty of some “fundamental failures.”
The CSSIW said immediate action was taken when the issue was identified…The failings came to light after a series of Freedom of Information requests from the programme revealed a number of investigation reports were missing. These included one case in which a childminder’s husband, who was not a registered child carer, was found to be looking after children.”

DNA of innocent people kept on Cheshire Constabulary database- Crewe Chronicle 20/01/10
“Cheshire Constabulary has removed some innocent people from its DNA database.
Figures revealed under the Freedom of Information Act show the force agreed to two requests out of 15 by individuals wishing to have their profiles deleted – a removal rate of 13.3%.
The statistics for 2008/09 were made public after the Tories asked for the details from all 43 forces in England and Wales. The Tories say innocent people trying to get their DNA records removed face a postcode lottery. The average removal rate is only 22%, with six forces not removing any. Chief Constable Chris Sims, of the Association of Chief Police Officers, said they would work with the Government to develop clear rules over DNA retention.”

5,500 empty council houses denied to desperate families – thisislondon.co.uk 20/1/10
“At least 5,500 properties owned by the capital’s authorities are unoccupied, more than 3,000 of which have been vacant for three months or more. This is despite 353,000 people across the city waiting to be housed. The figures, released to the Standard under the Freedom of Information Act, created fury among campaigners…A study by housing charity Shelter found that it will take 33 years to clear the council house waiting list in London.”

Crisis council paid out £350,000 as staff left
– Cambridge News 20/1/10
“Taxpayers footed the sixfigure bill to pay off bosses at a council which mistakenly overspent by £1.8 million. An investigation by the News found Saffron Walden-based Uttlesford District Council paid out more than £350,000 to departing employees in deals containing ‘gagging orders’ clauses in the last three years. Some £329,366 of this was paid in the year the authority misspent around £1.8 million of taxpayers’ money after a litany of mistakes in the finance department. The fiasco forced the authority to make 21 people redundant as well as freezing a similar number of vacant posts.”

Terror laws used to catch benefit cheats- Lancashire Evening Post 8/01/10

“Anti-terrors laws are still being used by a Lancashire council to snoop on residents. In the past year “static surveillance” including video was used five times by Preston Council to spy on families suspected of housing benefit fraud and to gain evidence of the “illegal dumping of waste” at a city supermarket. The disclosure, following a Freedom of Information Act request by the Lancashire Evening Post, comes after the Government announced plans last month to ban Town Halls from using intrusive techniques under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) for “trivial” offences such as “bin crimes” and dog fouling.”


North Wales Police runs up £750,000 bill on hire cars –
Daily Post 5/01/10

“North Wales police has run up a £750,000 bill in just five years for hiring cars.
It works out at a cost of more than £400 a day – enough to buy one family car, such as a Vauxhall Astra, every month. The figures were uncovered using Freedom of Information laws by the Liberal Democrats, who branded the practice unnecessarily lavish after it emerged £132m had been spent nationwide on bringing in extra vehicles.”

Scotland

‘Few schools’ hitting PE targets – BBC 27/1/10
“Fewer than one in five secondary schools and a third of primary schools are providing pupils with two hours of PE a week, according to new figures. Statistics obtained by the Tories said 17% of secondary schools – 55 out of 329 – were hitting the target. The result for primary schools stood at 35%, with pupils in 657 out of 1,866 primaries getting two hours a week…The target was set in 2004 by the last Scottish government, and reinforced by an SNP manifesto pledge to “ensure that every pupil has two hours of quality PE each week delivered by specialist PE teachers”.”

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