FOI Media Update – October 2012

Tax-dodging clampdown will aid open-government commitments – The Guardian – 30.10.12
Eric Gutierrez, senior governance advisor at Christian Aid, states that the UK government’s transparency commitments and its leadership of the Open Government Partnership (OGP) are commendable. However, some transparency commitments are more politically difficult than others, he says, and it’s the difficult ones that, so far, are still not appearing in the government’s agenda for the OGP.

Whistleblowing cases soar by 276 per cent since beginning of financial crisis – Lawyer Monthly 30.10.12
Whistleblowing cases reported to the Financial Services Authority have increased by 276 per cent in four years, according to information obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by Kroll Advisory Solutions, the global investigations firm. Kroll, which provides corporate investigations, says that over the last 12 months almost one in five (18 per cent) of its investigations were prompted by a whistleblower.

DfE spent £13k on legal advice after FOI for Gove’s private emails – Computerworld UK -29.10.12
The Department for Education (DfE) spent some £12,539.50 on legal advice relating to a freedom of information (FOI) request for information in education secretary Michael Gove’s private emails. The Information Commissioner ruled that the DfE had to respond to the request because the information in the emails amounted to departmental business. The DfE initially launched an appeal against the Commissioner’s decision, but has now withdrawn its appeal.

Pilots in safety scares after ‘falling asleep mid-air while flying’ – The Telegraph – 29.10.12
Two pilots fell asleep while flying planes full of passengers. The safety scares emerged as the British Airlines Pilots Association warned the problem was commonplace. In one incident, a captain left to use the lavatory but when he return could not raise his first officer through the radio, according to the Sun newspaper. The captain then used a code to get back in the cockpit where he found the pilot “slumped over the controls”,  according to official records of the incident. The Civil Aviation Authority records were obtained by the newspaper under Freedom of Information laws.

Ambassador held official talks with US defence firm he later joined – Independent – 28.10.12
Sir David Manning, the former UK Ambassador to Washington and a foreign affairs adviser to Tony Blair, met with senior executives at Lockheed Martin and gave advice on the handling of contracts affecting the company before taking a paid role with the defence giant.

Documents released under a Freedom of Information request disclose the contacts Sir David had with the multinational arms manufacturer before he left the diplomatic service and became a non-executive director of the UK wing of Lockheed Martin. The documents, which were released only after pressure from the Information Commissioner, will raise further concerns about the “revolving door” involving defence companies and senior figures from the public sector.

Eric Pickles: Savile scandal shows BBC is too secretive – The Telegraph – 28.10.12
Eric Pickles, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, called on the corporation to embrace transparency, allow requests under freedom of information laws and publish spending data if it wants to restores itself “in the affection of the nation”.

Publish full MPs’ expenses receipts, IPSA orders – The Telegraph – 27.10.12
The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa), which oversees expenses payments, has been told by the Information Commissioner that it must disclose the receipts handed in by MPs to back up their claims. It was found that Ipsa had breached the Freedom of Information Act and was given five weeks to hand over the documents or face prosecution for contempt of court. Ipsa said it was studying the ruling. It must consider whether to appeal.

Labour and tories under fire for inflating Trident job losses – Herald Scotland – 27.10.12
Labour and the Conservatives have been accused of misleading the public by exaggerating the number of jobs that would be lost if the Trident nuclear weapons system were removed from the Clyde. Figures released by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) under freedom of information law reveal that only 520 civilian jobs at Faslane and Coulport near Helensburgh are directly dependent on Trident. This contrasts with the 6000-11,000 jobs that pro-Trident politicians claim are at risk. Predicted job losses are central to the arguments about Scottish independence, which could see Scotland refuse to allow nuclear warheads on its soil.

Landmark victory for police candidate – Western Telegraph – 27.10.12
A senior police officer has won a landmark victory in his quest to find out why he didn’t get the job of Chief Constable of Dyfed-Powys Police. Howard Roberts, formerly Deputy Chief Constable of Nottinghamshire, is convinced that something went awry with the selection process for the Dyfed-Powys job in 2008. Now a tribunal has upheld his claim under the FOI Act and ordered Dyfed-Powys Police Authority to give him more information, which includes personal data on an HM Inspectorate of Constabulary official who sat in on the selection. Upholding Mr Roberts challenge, Judge Farrar said: “There can be no question as to the substantial public interest in the integrity of the selection procedure for any public office, but most particularly an office as responsible and politically sensitive as that of Chief Constable.”

Welsh hospital bed numbers fall by 1,000 in three years – BBC – 26.10.12
The number of beds in Welsh hospitals has fallen by more than 1,000 (8%) in three years, BBC Wales has discovered. Statistics from Welsh health boards after Freedom of Information requests also reveal that many hospitals are routinely overcrowded.

Hospitals ‘paid millions to put patients on death pathway’ – The Telegraph – 26.10.12
Hospitals are being paid millions of pounds to reach targets for the number of patients put on a controversial pathway for the withdrawal of life-saving treatment, according to data based on Freedom of Information requests.

Compensation payouts for hospital workers – The Leigh Reporter – 26.10.12
Employees at the borough’s hospitals are still claiming hundreds of thousands of pounds in compensation following accidents at work. A Freedom of Information request to Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh NHS Foundation Trust (WWL) has revealed that the last year five of 20 claims submitted have been settled, resulting in pay-outs of £38,250. From 2009/10 to 2011/12 WWL has been liable for £225,685 in injury pay-outs which could rise if the outstanding cases are successful.

Manchester Council spends £19m on consultants – as it makes £109m of cuts – Manchester Evening News – 25.10.12
Manchester council spent almost £19m on consultants in three years – at the same time as making £109m worth of cuts. Town hall bosses spent the money hiring outside experts as they brought in a series of cuts to jobs and services. The figures were obtained under Freedom of Information by the city’s Liberal Democrat opposition who slammed the council for spending taxpayers’ cash ‘lining the pockets’ of consultants.

Oil companies going unpunished for thousands of North Sea spills – The Guardian – 25.10.12
Oil companies operating in the North Sea have been fined for oil spills on just seven occasions since 2000, even though 4,123 separate spills were recorded over the same period, the Department of Energy and Climate Change (Decc) has confirmed. The disclosure came as Decc said on Thursday that the government had offered a “record-breaking” 167 new licences to oil and gas companies seeking to drill in the North Sea. Total fines resulting from prosecutions between 2000 and 2011 came to just £74,000 and no single oil company had to pay more than £20,000. Information about the fines was released by Decc after a freedom of information request and further inquiries by the Guardian.

Political editor wins battle to get FoI requests answered – Hold The Front Page – 24.10.12
A newspaper journalist whose two Freedom of Information requests have remained unanswered for a year has won the backing of the Information Commissioner. Paul Francis, political editor at the KM Group, submitted requests to two government departments around a year ago but has not received any formal response to one of them and has appealed for further details on another. After failing to receive answers to his requests Mr Francis complained to the Information Commissioner, who has now given the two departments a deadline to reply.

Cumbria police taser figures revealed – North West Evening Mail – 22.10.12
Tasers have been deployed by police in Cumbria more than 100 times, it was revealed following a Freedom of Information request. Information received showed that Tasers were deployed 139 times from March last year to August this year. Thirty of these instances involved firing the Tasers.

Vulnerable to be hurt most by ‘inhumane’ support cuts – Independent – 22.10.12
The Independent’s survey of local authorities in England based on Freedom of Information requests found that only 14 per cent currently provide help for those with moderate social care needs. This is set to fall to 11 per cent next year as councils – including Darlington, Rochdale and York – are forced to make further cuts to social care budgets.

Mobile phone driver danger revealed – Wigan Today – 21.10.12
Thousands of motorists are still putting lives at risk by phoning at the wheel. Figures obtained through a Freedom of Information request revealed that more than 2,350 drivers in Wigan have been issued with a fixed penalty notice in the last three years after being caught either texting or phoning while their vehicle is in motion.

Watchdog clears police over Kelly pictures – Witney Gazette – 20.10.12
The Information Commissioner has upheld Thames Valley Police’s decision not to release uncensored photographs relating to the death of weapons inspector Dr David Kelly, saying the release would cause “significant distress” to the family of the scientist, whose body was found in woods at Harrowdown Hill, near his Southmoor home in 2003.

DWP fired hundreds of staff for not turning up at work – Personnel Today – 19.10.12
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) dismissed 672 people last year for unsatisfactory attendance, a Freedom of Information Act request has revealed. The data also found the average number of sick days per DWP employee and that of other government departments.

Ben Wallace MP: policiticians will suffer while Commons secrecy continues – The Telegraph – 19.10.12
The Speaker’s attempt to block the publication of a new tranche of MP’s expenses could damage politicians’ reputations, argues Conservative MP Ben Wallace.

Attorney General blocks disclosure of Prince Charles letters to ministers – The Guardian – 16.10.12
The government has blocked the disclosure of a set of confidential letters written by Prince Charles to ministers. The attorney general issued a veto that puts an absolute block on the publication of 27 letters between the prince and ministers over a seven-month period. The decision comes after seven government departments lost a long-running freedom of information battle over the disclosure of the letters. The veto overrides last month’s ruling by the tribunal that the public had a right to know how the prince sought to change government policy. Following his decision, the Guardian announced that it would be seeking to take the government to the high court to challenge the veto on the grounds that it had acted unreasonably.

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