FOI Media Update 1st-15th November 2012

Maritime agency’s Monaco trip funded by taxpayer – BBC – 15.11.12
Officials of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency have been criticised for spending almost £20,000 sending four people to an annual boat show in Monaco during a period of cuts.

London councils spend £23 million telling us about them – London Evening Standard – 14.11.12
London councils spent more than £23 million on publicity last year. The bill is down more than 50 per cent from 2009/10, when it hit £56.5 million. In 2008/09, more than £60 million was spent, suggesting that boroughs are tightening their belts.

South Yorkshire Police staff morale low, survey finds – BBC – 14.11.12
An internal staff survey, conducted in March by South Yorkshire Police, found that morale within the force had fallen. In figures disclosed under a Freedom of Information request by the BBC more than 1,200 staff said morale at work was “low” or “very low”. 

NHS staff discuss rejecting FOI request in leaked email – The Telegraph – 13.11.12
According to a leaked email NHS staff discussed how they could prevent publication of financial documents subject to a Freedom of Information Act request.

Under-fire academy paid nearly £80,000 to law firm – Yorshire Post – 13.11.12
Outwood Grange Academy paid an international corporate law firm almost £80,000 to handle its press and freedom of information requests. The spending began in January 2011 when academies became subject to the Freedom of Information Act, and despite the academy already employing a solicitor as its legal officer. After initially providing a total for spending with the law firm up to April last year, Outwood then refused to provide updated figures after further FOI requests. In June this year the Information Commissioner ruled the academy should provide the figures but Outwood appealed the decision. The legal action was eventually withdrawn when a judge told the academy its case had no chance of succeeding.

Secret 28 ‘scientific experts’ who greened the BBC – revealed! – The Register – 13.11.12
A list of attendees at a climate-change seminar the BBC has spent tens of thousands of pounds trying to keep secret has been unearthed on an internet archive. The listed names emerged after the publicly-funded broadcaster won a legal battle to keep the list secret under freedom of information (FOI) laws. The seminar was cited by the BBC Trust as the basis for the broadcaster’s abandonment of impartiality when reporting on climate change. The BBC argued that it was able to derogate from the Freedom of Information Act because the seminar was held “for the purposes of journalism” and its attendance list is therefore protected by the law. On Friday the tribunal ruled decisively in favour of the BBC.

Councils slash spending on new library books – Northern Echo – 12.11.12
Research using freedom of information powers reveals local authorities in the North East and North Yorkshire have cut spending on library books by 34 per cent in five years.

A compelling case for transparency on radiation – Scottish Herald – 11.11.12
Revelations that Government scientists have discovered a near-doubling in the incidence of cancers among people living near the radioactively contaminated area at Dalgety Bay will add to concerns of local residents.

Streets where no pupils pass GCSEs – Express – 11.11.12
Britain’s education system has left entire neighbourhoods with teenagers who have no GCSEs. Data revealed by freedom of information requests provides details down to the exact streets that are home to these children. Thirty neighbourhoods are identified where no children passed five GCSEs, including English and Maths.

Misery of Brighton and Hove’s bullied kids – The Argus – 09.11.12
More than 130 secondary school pupils cited bullying as the reason they wanted to move to a new school in Brighton and Hove in the last two academic years. Figures obtained under Freedom of Information rules also show that the number of bullied children looking to change schools in the city has increased by 20% in 2011/12 from the previous year.

Herefordshire parish council facing High Court over freedom of information concern – Hereford Times – 09.11.12
The Information Commissioner’s Office has ordered Border Group Parish Council to respond to a freedom of information (FoI) request by the end of the year or face the Hight Court. The Herefordshire man has been waiting 18 months for his parish council to show him their FoI publication scheme.

Decc ‘spends £1.5m on flights’ – The York Press – 09.11.12
The Department of Energy and Climate Change spent £1.5 million on flights in two years, with £250,000 of this expended on domestic journeys.

Ash dieback: government claimed its ‘hands were tied’ on import ban – The Guardian – 08.11.12
Letters from 2009, obtained by Friends of the Earth via a Freedom of Information request, show government said it could not act on tree disease due to European and world trade rules after it was warned that ash dieback disease could have a huge impact on the British countryside.

Stormont department took 320 days to answer FoI request – BBC – 08.11.12
A retired civil servant, Mr Jeffrey Dudgeon, has complained at the time taken by a Stormont department to answer a Freedom of Information request. Outstanding material was eventually provided the day before a scheduled judicial review of the matter.

Society steps in over Hamza legal aid row – The Law Society Gazette – 08.11.12
The Law Society has offered to work with the government to increase public understanding and confidence in legal aid after the justice minister, Chris Grayling, announced an ‘immediate examination’ of the system following the Abu Hamza extradition case.  The minister ordered the review after a freedom of information request by the Daily Mail revealed that £680,000 was spent in legal aid on the Hamza case.

1,500 children have DNA taken by North Yorkshire Police – The Yorkshire Post – 08.11.12
More than 1,500 children have had their DNA swabbed by North Yorkshire Police in the past two years. Some of these were as young as ten years old. Swabs have been taken even when such children have not been charged with any offence. The figures were revealed under the Freedom of Information Act. A spokesman for North Yorkshire Police said, “DNA is a very important and successful tool used in the detection of crimes, some of which have been solved years after they were committed.

SNP pressures councils to allow more wind farms – The Telegraph – 08.11.12
Scottish Borders Council is being asked to change a new blueprint for the area’s future development after government officials complained of “negative language” about wind farms. Correspondence released under the Freedom of Information Act show that a senior Scottish Government planner rebuked the local authority for suggesting “the Borders Council is at saturation point for wind farms.”

Foreign drivers flock to switch licences – Auto Express – 07.11.12
More than one million motorists have converted foreign driving permits to a British licence over the past 15 years, without needing any training on British roads. This figure was obtained by insurer by a Freedom of Information request and has prompted the insurance company to call for mandatory formal training for such motorists, who could have learned to drive in countries with very different driving conditions.

‘Only five families claiming £100,000 in housing benefit’ – – 06.11.12
An analysis of the Government’s much publicised claim that some families are receiving over £100,000 a year in housing costs has revealed that there are perhaps only five in the country doing so. Full Fact, an independent data-checking organisation, made a Freedom of Information request to the Department or Work and Pensions and has concluded that “it is clear from what we’ve unearthed that the extremely large claims highlighted in the media are also extremely rare”.

Olympic Torch relay cost North Wales Police £31,000 – The Daily Post – 06.11.12
A freedom of information request has revealed that £22,618 was spent on additional pay for North Wales Police officers and staff, including overtime, overnight allowance, unsocial hours and national insurance payments. A total of £5,115 was spent on “other costs” such as repairs and maintenance and recovery of vehicles and equipment, with a further £3,640 being spent on subsistence. North Wales Police say they received no funding from the Olympic safety and security budget for the role they played in the torch relay.

Millions ‘wasted’ on consultation into hospital closures – Harrow Observer – 05.11.12
NHS North West London released the cost of the Shaping a Healthier Future consultation, which has been called a ‘complete waste’ by campaigners, following a request under the Freedom of Information Act. The bill is said to be £7 million, which included nearly £4 million in fees to consultancy firm McKinsey. There has been opposition to proposals to merge some hospital services and close the A&E department at Central Middlesex Hospital.

Councils spending hundreds of thousands of pounds on smartphones and other gadgets for employees – The Northern Echo – 05.11.12
Data released under FoI shows local authorities in the North-East and North Yorkshire have invested more than £600,000 on smartphones and tablet computers for staff and politicians. While this spending is only a fraction of councils’ budgets it comes amid fears a fresh wave of austerity cutbacks is about to see millions of pounds wiped from key services such as elderly care.

Hertfordshire County Council’s £7m travel expenses in two years, and just £19k on public transport – Welwyn Hatfield Times – 05.11.12
Figures obtained under FoI show that between September 2010 and September 2012 Hertfordshire County Council spent almost £7 million on transport for staff and politicians. Of that total, just £19,082 was spent of public transport, drawing criticism from opposition members.

Anger as crimes are left unsolved by Wiltshire Police – Swindon Advertiser – 04.11.12
Information obtained under the Freedom of Information Act revealed that nearly a quarter of all crime reported to Wiltshire Police is not investigated beyond a desktop study or a phone call.

Domestic Violence: Women’s services face ‘disastrous’ cuts as councils slash Budgets, FOI reveals – Huffington Post – 04.11.12
Services aimed at helping vulnerable women, including refuges and rape crisis centres, are being reduced as local authorities cut budgets. Karen Ingala Smith, the chief executive of domestic violence charity Nia, told the Huffington Post UK vulnerable women could be left “with nowhere to go” after cuts.

How ministers rewrote the rules ‘to hide lack of EU legal advice’ – Herald Scotland – 04.11.12
Alex Salmond’s Government has been accused of manipulating the Ministerial Code to avoid questions over an independent Scotland’s place in the European Union. The First Minister claimed that he was unable to say whether he had received legal advice on Scotland’s EU membership due to a gagging clause in the code. The receipt of legal advice is significant because although the SNP insists that upon Scottish independence Scotland would automatically be an EU member and avoid the euro others claim Scotland may have to apply for membership and adopt the euro.

In May last year, a labour MEP used FoI to ask the SNP Government if it had been given specific legal advice on the subject. Ministers refused to answer and that refusal was appealed to the Scottish Information Commissioner, who ordered to Government to confirm if it had received any advice. The SIC said there was a “strong public interest” in establishing whether or not advice existed on such an important subject.

The Scottish Government then appealed to the Court of Session to keep the matter secret, arguing that the Ministerial Code made it impossible to confirm or deny the existence of legal advice. The particular section of the Code cited by the Government was, however, rewritten while the SIC was considering the appeal, leading to the accusations of manipulation by the Government.

Two weeks ago, after years of asserting that Scotland would automatically be in the EU, ministers finally admitted they had never had any specific advice from their own law officers in support of the claims.

Concerns over neurology care – The York Press – 03.11.12
There are serious flaws in the way more than one million people disabled by neurological conditions are identified, according to a report by the charity Sue Ryder, based on Freedom of Information data.

Thousands of hospital appointments missed at Stoke Mandeville – Thame Gazette – 03.11.12
A Freedom of Information request to Bucks Healthcare NHS Trust, which runs Stoke Mandeville Hospital, showed that of 263,704 hospital appointments made during 2011/12 more than 16,000 were missed. The Trust is currently piloting a text alert service to remind people about their appointments.

101 calles go unanswered – Northampton Herald & Post – 02.11.12
Statistics revealed through a Freedom of Information enquiry by the Conservative candidate to become Northamptonshire’s police and crime commissioner indicate one in five calls to Northamptonshire Police’s 101 non-emergency number have been going unanswered. Deirdre Newham, Chair of the Police Authority said new systems have been put in place into the Force Control Room that have resulted in significant improvements in performance.

Charity wants urgent action against abuse – Dorset Echo – 02.11.12
NSPCC is calling for urgent action after a freedom of information request revealed that Dorset Police made 49 arrests for child abuse pictures in one year.

Call to disclose Sizewell N-plant data – Eastern Daily Press – 02.11.12
Opponents of Sizewell C claim that vital technical information on the proposed nuclear reactors is being withheld by the Office for Nuclear Regulation, ostensibly on grounds of commercial confidentiality.

Concern at backlog in records of gun owners – Plymouth Herald – 02.11.12
Following a Freedom of Information request by The Herald, Devon and Cornwall Police admitted that as of September 17 it had around  6,250 gun transfer amendments which had yet to be added to its electronic records.

Northampton missing millions in unpaid council tax – Northampton Chronicle – 02.11.12
Statistics obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show the amount of unpaid council tax in the town since 2005 stands at £6.7 million

Sherwood Forest NHS Trust reveals £1bn PFI overspend – BBC – 02.11.12
The costs of redeveloping a hospital in Nottinghamshire under a PFI deal have more than doubled to over £2bn, according to figures obtained by BBC under a Freedom of Information request.

Royal Family can’t ignore public’s right to know, insist MSPs – Scotsman – 02.11.12
Plans to let the Royal family escape the glare of Freedom of Information laws in Scotland have been rejected by MSPs who say they should face the same scrutiny as other public bodies.

William Hague spent £10,000 stuffing Albert the snake – Huffington Post – 01.11.12
Foreign Secretary William Hague has spent £10,000 re-stuffing the Foreign Office Snake. The price tag was revealed following an FOI request to the Foreign Office.

Most government departments won’t publish data on sector funding – Civil Society – 01.11.12
Most central government departments will not publish full information about levels of funding to the voluntary sector so it is impossible to track whether they are making disproportionate cuts or adhering to Compact principles, Compact Voice has discovered by making Freedom of Information Act requests.

85% of hospital trusts adopt controversial end-of-life care regime – The Independent – 01.11.12
Data obtained using the Freedom of Information Act suggest that 85% of hospitals trusts use a controversial care regime, known as the Liverpool Care Pathway (LCP), which can involve withholding food and drink from terminally-ill patients. Furthermore, figures suggest that almost two-thirds of trusts that have used the LCP have received financial incentives for the implementation of the method.

Bath’s Royal United ‘took £1.3m in parking charges’ – Western Daily Press – 01.11.12
The Western Daily Press reported how NHS trusts in the Bristol area collected more than £2.3 million last year, from patients, visitors and staff. The information was obtained by Gloucestershire MP, Chris Skidmore, under the Freedom of Information Act. He discovered that Bath’s Royal United Hospital took £1.3 million, and both Great Western Hospitals and Salisbury NHS Trusts received over £1 million.

Met Police got £22.7m from sponsors, FOI request finds –  BBC – 01.11.12
The Metropolitan Police has received donations and sponsorship worth £22.7 m from dozens of organisations over the past five years, the BBC has learned from figures disclosed following a Freedom of Information Act request. Although Scotland Yard said it had a “long history” of working with different partners to tackle crime, London Assembly Green member Jenny Jones questioned whether it was right for police to accept such donations and called for the Met to “rethink” the policy. She said, “Some of this looks like rent-a-cop policing, which I think the majority of the public would not find acceptable.”

Coverage of this story also appeared here – The Guardian – 01.11.12 – and here – The Independent – 01.11.12

Solent NHS Trust patient data left at market stall – BBC – 01.11.12
Patients’ confidential information has been left at a market stall and on top of a parking meter in a series of data breaches by Solent NHS Trust. A Freedom of Information request by the BBC revealed the trust had breached data protection 93 times in the past two years.

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