FOI Disclosure Stories August 2011

Papers reveal fears over ports’ millions proposal – News Letter 16/08/111
Stormont minister Danny Kennedy was warned that moves to take funds from Belfast port could be challenged in the courts. The concerns were contained in briefing papers which were requested by the News Letter under the Freedom of Information Act. The Department for Regional Development intended to black out large chunks of the documents but actually highlighted the areas which it wanted to hide.

Gateways using nurses to screen GP referrals
– Pulse 10/08/11
GP referrals are being screened and bounced back to general practice by nurses, physiotherapists and even podiatrists employed by PCTs to staff referral management centres, a Pulse investigation reveals. Data supplied under the Freedom of Information Act shows PCTs that operate referral management centres to reduce the number of GP referrals to secondary care are commonly using non-doctors for triage.

Scottish Review celebrating a victory on salaries of ‘fatcat’ NHS board managers – The Drum 08/08/11
Scottish current affairs website editor Kenneth Roy is celebrating a major victory in a two-year battle to force NHS regional health boards to reveal the salaries of top managers. He achieved this by putting in freedom of information requests to dig up the salaries of the top execs.

Birmingham City Council awarded PwC £250k contract without tendering – Birmingham Post 04/08/11
An inquiry is under way after Birmingham City Council broke its own rules by failing to put a £254,000 contract with financial consultants PricewaterhouseCoopers out to tender. Details of the contracts for PwC and Taylor Haig emerged following a Freedom of Information Act question from Larry Brown, a member of the public.

Shortfall in affordable housing – Countryside Alliance 04/08/11
Research undertaken by the Countryside Alliance shows how local councils have failed to meet provision targets for affordable housing on average by over 76 per cent in the past year. A Freedom of Information request was sent to all local authorities in order to obtain the data.

Courts forced to disclose written arguments – The Times (subscription only) 03/08/11
A landmark ruling by senior judges has struck a blow for open justice that will force courts in future to disclose all the written arguments in cases before them. The Court of Appeal has ruled that HM Revenue and Customs must comply with a request made by a barrister under the Freedom of Information Act to disclose their outline arguments.

More than 2,000 charities and community groups face cuts – False Economy 02/08/11
More than 2,000 charities and community groups are facing budget cuts as local authorities reduce their funding – or in some cases completely withdraw it – according to research based on hundreds of Freedom of Information responses from local councils published by False Economy.

Police admit one in three crimes not investigated – The Times (subscription only) 02/08/11
Figures obtained by The Times according to responses under the Freedom of Information Act for 21 of the 43 police forces in England and Wales show that the overall rate of crimes being dropped from further investigation is remarkably constant nationally and runs at about 32 per cent.

Cuts threaten traveller children’s schooling – The Independent 02/08/11
The schooling of up to 100,000 children in the travelling community is being put at risk by cuts to council funding, an investigation by The Independent has revealed. Nearly half of 127 authorities have either abolished their traveller education service or drastically cut staff levels, Freedom of Information responses show.

Care homes cash in on resident’s death – The Times (subscription only) 01/08/11
Care homes are making tens of thousands of pounds each year from the deaths of residents. Council records show that care providers are taking up to six months to inform their local authority that a resident has died, meaning they continue to receive taxpayers’ money to fund that resident’s care. Of 20 councils surveyed by The Times under the Freedom of Information Act, 14 admitted overpaying care home providers after the deaths of residents in the past year.

Public consultation on Digital Economy Act a sham? – 01/08/11
Freedom of information requests have revealed that Peter Mandelson, the UK’s then Business Secretary of State, made the decision to sanctify aspects of the Digital Economy Act, even as the public consultation was under way.

Cuts leave patients waiting months for mental health help – The Times (subscription only) 01/08/11
A growing number of patients suffering from depression and other mental health problems are waiting more than three months for counselling in the latest sign of the impact of financial pressures on NHS services. Data collected from 120 Primary Care Trusts in England under the Freedom of Information Act shows that in those trusts that provide access to trained counsellors, more than 40 per cent leave patients waiting three months.

SNP rapped by water regulator – The Scotsman 31/07/11
Ministers have been told that their insistence on keeping Scottish Water in public ownership is hampering the company’s efforts to fix the country’s antiquated pipe network. Documents released under Freedom of Information legislation reveal an internal memorandum sent two years ago warning that bosses at Scottish Water were “increasingly concerned” they would not be able to afford repairs if the company remained funded solely by the government.

Private healthcare group lobbied competition body for NHS inquiry – Guardian 29/07/11
The close links between a private sector lobby group and an NHS regulator in the run-up to the launch of a groundbreaking inquiry into competition in the health service have emerged in a series of documents passed to the Guardian. Emails released under the Freedom of Information Act show that the lobby group NHS Partners Network helped draft a letter requesting a formal investigation into how firms were being blocked from getting NHS work.

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