Media round up March 2012

Police chiefs hire retired colleagues on £1,100 a day to act as consultants Daily Mail – 26.03.2012
The Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) has come under scrutiny after Freedom of Information requests released information showing that contracts worth hundreds of thousands of pounds were signed with companies run by their former colleagues. The FOI requests, made by the Yorkshire Post, revealed that more than £800,000 was paid in total to ten consultants.

Murder suspects among thousands still at large despite arrest warrants Telegraph – 22.03.2012
Police statistics suggest that more than 30,000 suspects have fled before attempts were made to secure convictions at a court. The figures, released under Freedom of Information laws, disclose that 14 percent of “outstanding arrest warrants” related to offenders accused of violent crimes. The figures, supplied to the BBC, cover cases where a defendant has failed to appear for trial or for a court appearance after being released on bail.

David Cameron’s housing gaffe exposed by councils  Property 118 – 20.03.2012
David Cameron’s claim that buy to let landlords are reducing the cost of rents in response to the Government’s welfare reforms is untrue, according to information from councils. The social housing magazine Inside Housing tested Cameron’s claim to the House of Lords that the new welfare policy was forcing landlords to cut rent by sending out Freedom of Information requests to every council in England. The truth is that just 36 councils confirmed that any landlords were cutting rents in return for direct housing benefit payments, and 12 had a total of 65 landlords taking advantage of the offer.

Budget 2012: Non Doms face increased tax levy  CityWire – 20.03.2012
Non-doms living in Britain for 12 years face an increased levy of £50,000, the chancellor has announced. The move is effective 6 April and will likely prove controversial as since the existing £30,000 levy was announced –  by then-chancellor Alistair Darling in 2008 – the number of individuals registered as non-domiciled has fallen. The number of non-doms – persons resident in the UK allowed to keep overseas income outside of Britain’s tax regime – fell by 16% in the last two years, according to data obtained by law firm McGrigors under the Freedom of Information Act.

Waiving the rules to keep the nuclear power programme on course  Spinwatch – 20.03.2012
The energy minister, Charles Hendry, is preparing to waive the rules on admitting skilled foreign workers in order to keep the government’s nuclear power programme on track. Hendry made his suggestion at the first meeting of a hitherto secret group called the Programme Management Board. The minutes of the meting last November and subsequent correspondence have been released by the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) under Freedom of Information laws.

NHS risk register: no decision over publication BBC News – 12.03.2012
The government says it has not decided whether to appeal against a Tribunal ruling to make public a risk assessment of the NHS shakeup in England. Minister Lord Howe said the transition risk register would not be published until the FOI Tribunal explained its ruling but Labour peers said that Parliament could not properly scrutinise the health bill without seeing the register.

999 Service staff cuts  Huffington Post – 11.03.2012
Labour has accused the coalition of overseeing a “shocking” 5,000 cut in police dealing with 999 emergencies. Figures released under Freedom of Information laws suggest the number of “first responder” officers has dropped by 5,261 since the general election. David Cameron has repeatedly insisted that frontline police have not been affected by cuts to budgets.

Primary academies Tottenham Journal – 1.03.2012
Private emails reveal that Haringey Council’s chief executive was overruled as the Department for Education pushed forward with its primary academies ‘experiment’. The emails – which date from last March to January and were released as part of an Freedom of Information request – show the ongoing tug-of-war over primary schools in Haringey between the DfE and the council.

£4,500 spent on hoax calls by Hereford and Worcester Fire and Rescue Service in the past 3 years – Bromsgrove Advertiser – 1.03.2012
The figures obtained through Freedom of Information requests show that the time spent on what the service calls “malicious false alarms” totalled 20hrs 32mins.

Staff axed from quangos to share £2m bonus – Public Service 28/3/2012
Staff working at the soon to be defunct regional development agencies (RDAs) shared a bonus pot of £2.16m, a Freedom of Information request by Conservative MP Jake Berry has revealed. The figures showed the money was shared by 2,026 staff at nine RDAs which will be scrapped by the end of April. The average bonus was said to be £2,000.

NHS Ayrshire and Arran commit “worst ever” Freedom of Information breach – Ardrossan Herald 27.2.2012
NHS Ayrshire and Arran has been severely criticised for withholding more than 50 reports detailing serious incidents at its hospitals and clinics. The health board refused to release the critical incident and adverse event reports – some of which involved the deaths of patients – to its own staff. Information Commissioner Kevin Dunion said there had been “a catalogue of failings” by the board which may have been the most serious breach of FOI laws he had ever dealt with.

Jobseekers forced to clean private homes and offices for nothing – The Guardian 24/2/2012
Jobseekers forced to clean private homes and offices were supplied by a government contractor. The Guardian has discovered through a Freedom of Information request that a major government contractor, Avanta, has compelled jobseekers to work as unpaid cleaners in houses, flats, offices and council premises under the work programme. The programme has received criticism that using unpaid labour to carry out routine tasks amounts to a public subsidy for employers, has resulted in a succession of high street shops pulling out of the scheme this week.

Millions spent on empty court buildings – The Law Gazette 23/2/2012
A Freedom of Information request has revealed that the government is spending £2.5m a year maintaining dozens of redundant courts across England and Wales. The Freedom of Information request shows that 69 former court buildings remain vacant, with no imminent chance of them being sold. Justice minister Jonathan Djanogly announced in December 2010 that 142 courts would close to save money. It is understood that 121 have since shut, most by April 2011.

Councils spent half a billion pounds on CCTV in four years – 24 Dash 22/2/2012
Local authorities in the UK have spent more than £500 million on their CCTV operations in the past four years, according to a report by Big Brother Watch. The report – following a Freedom of Information request – reveals there are now at least 51,600 CCTV cameras controlled by councils, with five of them each operating more than 1,000 cameras.

Asylum seeking children win compensation after being unlawfully detained – Children and young people now 20.2.2012
The Home Office has paid out more than £1million in compensation to 40 asylum seeking children who were unlawfully locked up in adult detention centres. The case, which concluded in 2010, came to light through a Freedom of Information request made by The Guardian. A judicial review was launched in 2005 resulting in the Home Office changing the law and in the formal admission that 40 children had been unlawfully detained, for which the Home Office agreed to pay compensation and legal costs. But the Refugee Council warned that children are still wrongly being held in adult detention centres.

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