FOI Media Update May 2012

Metropolitan police stockpiling rubber coated bullets 3.05.2012 – BBC

A BBC investigation has suggested that following the London riots in the summer of 2011 police began to stockpile a reserve of rubber bullets. In the month before last August’s riots, the Metropolitan Police held just 700 baton rounds of the bullets but by December 2011, the number had increased 14 times to more than 10,024, a Freedom of Information request shows. Baton rounds have never been used to quell disorder on the mainland of the UK but have been responsible for fatalities during their use in Northern Ireland.

UUK chief denies backing private fair fees scheme 3.05.2012 – Times Higher Education

The president of Universities UK floated proposals for uncapped tuition fees to be paid by private investors in return for a proportion of a graduate’s salary, it has emerged.

Under the scheme, a student would sign a contract with a special purpose company, acting for a university or group of universities, to repay a fixed percentage of their earnings over a set number of years. Banks would package the graduate contracts and sell them on to investors, particularly pension funds. The system – known as Fair, which stands for funding with affordable income-based repayments – envisaged uncapped, variable fees.

Boris Johnson resisted Labour appeal to tackle London air pollution 3.05.2012 – The Guardian

The London mayor, Boris Johnson, resisted attempts by the previous Labour government to make him clean up dangerous air pollution in London, according to ministerial briefing papers released under the Freedom of Information Act.

The papers, obtained by the London clean air group after a three-year court battle, also show that the mayor scrapped the western extension of central London’s congestion zone without consulting officials, despite mounting evidence that air pollution was prematurely killing thousands of Londoners a year.

The papers show that in early 2009 central government was hoping to show the European Union that it had plans in place to reduce emissions of PM10s, the minute sooty particles emitted mainly by traffic that can cause heart attacks and respiratory problems. The extension of the zone, which the government believed could reduce PM10 emissions in London considerably, was a central plank of Britain’s argument that Europe should not prosecute it for failure to meet EU pollution laws.

Garda overtime bill up by €4m  6.05.2012 – The Times

The garda overtime bill increased by €3.9m last year, despite wage and allowance cuts across the public sector.

The total expenditure on garda overtime was €80.4m, up from €76.5m in 2010. The figures were disclosed by the Department of Justice under the Freedom of Information Act. The top 20 claimants earned a total of €765,292.60. This year’s highest earner took home an extra €49,371.91 on top of annual salary.

The garda budget was reduced by almost €80m a year in last December’s budget. The force is downsizing from 13,958 to 13,000 members by the end of 2014, to meet its obligations under the government’s Programme for National Recovery 2011-2016. One of the areas in which senior gardai hope to make savings is by reducing spending on overtime and allowances.

£40m owed by NHS tourists in unpaid fees 4.05.2012 – Medical News Today

According to an investigation conducted by Pulse, UK hospitals are owed as much as £40m in outstanding fees for supplying medical care to foreign nationals.

Pulse approached acute trusts across the UK under the Freedom of Information Act to obtain information on outstanding payments owed for the treatment of foreign nationals who were not eligible to free NHS care.

This FoI disclosure may inflame the debate over health tourism again. Earlier in the year GP’s were under pressure to register foreign nationals who are not otherwise eligible to receive secondary care. In instances where individuals are not entitled to NHS care, their insurer or their country of origin will be approached for payment.

Pulse received responses from a total of 35 acute trusts that were able to provide figures for unpaid fees by foreign nationals. The average unpaid debt for the provision of care to these persons amounted to £230,000.  Extrapolated across all 168 trusts in England, the total figure owed to the NHS by foreign nationals is estimated to be £40m.

Councils spend thousands of pounds sending dignitaries to Olympics 8.05.2012 – The Times

Local authorities are using public money to buy their dignitaries, members and favoured residents tickets for the Olympics. The information came to light after seven labourers in Uxbridge started talking in a pub and decided to submit 415 Freedom of Information requests to every council in the country.

The Uxbridge seven found that members of Ealing and Dorset councils will be paid by the taxpayer to watch Olympic events while other authorities will give or sell hundreds of tickets to residents, bypassing the procedure the rest of the public had to go through last year.

Three of Britain’s most deprived boroughs are among the biggest spenders. Newham, which contains the Olympic stadium, is using £29,400 of public money; the most of any of the councils. Hackney is third, spending £26,570 on 200 tickets. Tower Hamlets, which has the poorest residents in the country, is sixth, spending £17,000 on 100 tickets, and it has applied for a further 100. Hackney and Southwark are among the councils giving tickets to children.

Andy Coulson is likely to have attended sensitive meetings No 10 admits 9.05.2012 – The Guardian

Through direct questions to Cameron’s spokesman and in freedom of information requests, the Guardian asked which ministers or senior civil servants were responsible for deciding on the level of vetting Coulson should undergo. The Cabinet Office said no information was held. Asked if Coulson attended cabinet meetings, gatherings of the National Security Council (NSC), or Cobra, the cabinet’s crisis response committee, it said he “attended meetings which were necessary for him to carry out his duties and which were allowed for under his security check clearance”. No 10 spent almost six months working on the internal review of its handling of the Guardian’s freedom of information request about Coulson’s access to highly sensitive information.  It concluded there was no recorded information about whether Coulson attended a series of meetings at which highly confidential and sensitive information might have been discussed.

Kohl ignored warnings of Italy’s risk in joining euro, papers reveal10.05.2012 – The Times

German officials gave numerous warnings that Italy was not ready to join the euro but were ignored because Helmut Kohl believed the single currency was Europe’s destiny, secret papers released under freedom of information laws revealed yesterday.

Italy posed “a special risk” to the euro from its start in 1999 because it continually refused to reduce its huge debts, Chancellor Kohl’s top official told him in a prophetic memo nine months before the launch.

Rome also used accounting tricks, including a ruse to sell gold reserves from one branch of government to another to generate a “Europe tax”, showing on paper that it was making progress when in fact debts were rising, German officials warned their leader.

Mr Kohl brushed aside the alerts and insisted that Rome should join the first wave of the euro, saying he felt “the weight of history” on his shoulders, German government papers obtained by Der Spiegel magazine showed.

Planning teams under threat as cuts dilute specialist work 10.05.2012 – The Guardian

Britain’s planners are under more pressure than ever before. Since the publication of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), planning teams are changing the way they work to help local communities play a greater role in the planning process. Meanwhile, the rush is on to draw up local plans before the end of a government-imposed “transition period” to implement the NPPF.

More is required of planners at exactly the time when there are fewer skilled staff available to take on the burden of work. Figures gathered by the National Trust under the Freedom of Information Act show that the number of planners working in local authorities has dropped as councils strive to cut costs.

James Lloyd, who gathered the data for the National Trust, said that local plans and other aspects of the Localism Act would put extreme pressure on shrinking teams and budgets. “Without increasing capacity within planning departments, that’s a huge burden. All planning applications that are made could be reviewed under the NPPF.”

FE colleges spent at least £65m on agency workers last year  11.05.2012 – Unison Press

Further education colleges spent at least £65 million on agency staff last year*, according to new figures released today (Friday 11 May).

Information obtained by UNISON, under the freedom of information act, shows that 170 colleges that replied to the union’s request spent a combined total of £64,613,485 on agency staff. There are 251 FE colleges, meaning the total bill will be even higher.

The disclosures come as hardworking college staff have seen their incomes fall in real terms by up to £3,100 over two years, and the cost of living rise by 9.4%. They are also facing the constant threat of job cuts.

The unions are warning colleges that using agencies is a particularly wasteful way of employing staff. Agencies regularly charge fees as much as three times the cost of directly employing a member of staff. Colleges also have to pay 20% VAT on agency bills, but do not have to pay this tax when they directly employ workers.

Risk assessment of NHS to remain unpublished, as ministers wield veto 11.05.2012 – The Telegraph

The move to defy a ruling by the Information Tribunal that the risk register should be released under the FOI Act was agreed by the Cabinet on Tuesday morning. Information Commissioner Christopher Graham agreed that the documents should be published and, after an appeal by the Department of Health, the Information Tribunal also ruled for disclosure. But the Cabinet agreed on Tuesday that the “ministerial veto” should be used to prevent publication.

The use of the veto is inherently incriminating considering it has now been used four times since the FOI Act came into law in 2000 and previously covered a key Cabinet meeting ahead of the 2003 Iraq War, and two Cabinet sub-committees on devolution.

Health Secretary Andrew Lansley said he believed in “greater transparency” but that it was also essential to retain “a safe space where officials are able to give ministers full and frank advice in developing policies and programmes”.

Medical and social security records being stored unlawfully and inappropriately accessed, statistics show 14.05.2012 – The Independent

Medical and social security records kept by public bodies are being unlawfully or inappropriately accessed dozens of times a month and hundreds of civil servants disciplined for data offenses, according to Government records.

Staff at the Department for Work and Pension (DWP) are being reprimanded at a rate of nearly five per day for breach of the rules governing its vast database – thought to be the largest of its kind in Europe – while the Department of Health (DoH) last year recorded 13 cases a month of unlawful access to medical records.

The statistics, obtained by Channel 4’s Dispatches under the Freedom of Information Act, will increase concern about the security of personal data and the ease with which private investigators are selling access to personal and confidential information, much of which is held on state computer systems and is illegal to obtain without suitable authorisation.

Councils are owed £456m in residential care fees 19.05.2012 – The Times

Councils across England are owed almost half a billion pounds by elderly and disabled people who have so far failed to pay charges levied for social care services.

Figures obtained under Freedom of Information (FoI) show that £104 million of the total debt has been written off, while £361 million is outstanding.

Charities say that the numbers highlight a growing crisis in social care, with many people struggling to meet rising costs. Services may include a carer visiting an elderly person’s house to help them to dress, bathe and make a meal.

The figures come after data collected by the Labour Party showed that the number of people getting council-funded care had fallen by 11 per cent in the past two years. The research also revealed a postcode lottery, with some councils offering services for free while others charge more than £20 an hour.

The FoI research was carried out by Chris Skidmore, a Conservative MP on the Health Select Committee. “The fact that local authorities are struggling to recoup debts owed to them demonstrates that the current model of delivering social care is a flawed one,” he said.

Bush and Blair’s pre-Iraq conversation must be disclosed, tribunal rules 21.05.2012 – Guardian

The Foreign Office lost an appeal against an order by the information commissioner, Christopher Graham, to disclose records of the conversation between the two leaders on 12 March 2003.

“Accountability for the decision to take military action against another country is paramount,” Graham had said in his original FOI request. Upholding that ruling on Monday, Judge John Angel, president of the information tribunal, said Foreign Office witnesses had downplayed the importance of a decision to go to war, a view the tribunal found “difficult to accept”. The tribunal added: “Also in our view, particularly from the evidence in this case, the circumstances surrounding a decision by a UK government to go to war with another country is always likely to be of very significant public interest, even more so with the consequences of this war.”

It said parts of the phone call between Blair and Bush recording what the former British prime minister said must be disclosed. The two men are believed to have discussed UN resolutions on Iraq and a television interview given by Jacques Chirac, then French president, on 10 March 2003.

Angus Lapsley, a Foreign Office official responsible for US-UK relations, argued against disclosure on the grounds that Britain had “a uniquely close and privileged relationship with the US”. He added that there was “no comparator” in terms of the “breadth and depth” of the UK’s relationship with the US, which was vital to Britain’s national interests.

Cuts leave adults with learning difficulties stuck at home 22.05.2012 – The Times

Adults with learning disabilities are increasingly confined to their homes because of cuts in day services, according to a report published today.

The report, called Stuck at home: the impact of day service cuts on people with a learning disability, paints a picture of a system that has suffered significant cutbacks as councils attempt to make savings.

The report used freedom of information requests to 151 local authorities in England and surveys of people with a learning disability and of professionals who work with adults with a learning disability. It found that almost one in three local authorities had closed day services over the past three years, with one in five offering no alternative service. More than half (57 per cent) of people with a learning disability who are known to social services do not receive any day service provision, compared to 48 per cent in 2009-2010. In addition, 60 per cent of local authorities have increased charges for going to day services and for vital support, such as transport to a service, by 70 per cent on average. As a result, adults in receipt of a personal care budget from a local authority are unable to afford the same level of day support. Many adults have been reassessed by councils and are no longer eligible for support, either through a day care centre or a social worker.

Thousands of racist incidents recorded in schools 23.05.2012 – Edexec

More than 87,000 racist incidents have been recorded in Britain’s schools between 2007 and 2011, according to a FOI request carried out by the BBC.

Data gathered from 90 local education authorities across the country shows that 87,915 cases of racist bullying, including name-calling and physical abuse, have taken place in schools. The highest number of incidents (5,752) was recorded in Birmingham, followed by 4,690 in Leeds. The lowest number was in Carmarthenshire, with just five cases.

Following the murder of teenager Stephen Lawrence, the previous government asked schools in England and Wales to report incidents or racism to their LEA. Between 2007 and 2010, racist incidents rose in England, Scotland and Wales from 22,285 to 23,971.

Areas including Luton, Oldham, Croydon, Bedford and Middlesbrough saw an increase of more than 40% over that period. However, the coalition government changed this guidance and schools no longer have a duty to record or report these occurrences.

Superstations lie empty in £1m a month blunder as fire service refuses to move in 24.06.2012 – The Times

Taxpayers are spending more than £1 million every month on the rent and upkeep of mothballed fire service control rooms that have never been used, The Times can reveal.

The total cost of one of Whitehall’s most disastrous projects has reached £270 million, and counting. The Government will not finish paying for the rent, maintenance and utility bills of all the buildings for more than 20 years.

Details of the growing cost of the nine centres have been uncovered using the Freedom of Information Act. Only one of the centres built as part of the “FiReControl” project is in use. Rent, electricity, water and repair costs on the remaining eight centres stand at £1,134,566 a month.

Costs will be incurred for years to come as no break clauses were placed in the agreements to lease the buildings. Two leases come to an end in 2027, one in 2028, two in 2032, three in 2033 and one in 2035.

Your emails, sex secrets and health details, all harvested by Google  27.05.2012 – The Times

In the spring of 2010, the information commissioner launched an investigation into Google. There was just one charge: the internet giant was prying into the secrets of British householders.

It was claimed that the Street View cars used to compile photographic records of almost every street and home were fitted with software that could intercept communications, including emails, chat messages and photographs.

Initially Luc Delany, then the company’s European policy associate, provided a written assurance to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) that it had not collected any personal information.

A few weeks later, Google admitted it might have collected some personal information but it would probably have been fragmented. It apologised and said the software had been installed in error. As one executive said: “We screwed up.”

A report by America’s Federal Communications Commission (FCC) published last month has now lit a possible fuse under Google’s defence. It obtained documents, yet to be published in full, which reveal that the Street View software — gstumbler — was designed to gather personal information.

Please follow and like us:

Comments are closed.