Freedom of Information in the news – week ending 18/2/22 – #FOIFriday

This week highlights how FOI can be used to dig deeper into national headlines, or keep track of local issues, while also identifying a different kind of crime hotspot in Fife.

Bin collections

It might be a little harder to collect them than usual if they’ve been sent flying by Storm Eunice, but how many bin collections get missed generally?

Figures reported in Envirotec Magazine, suggest about 750,000 a year – which sounds a lot but isn’t a huge proportion of the overall collections, though it’s likely any missed collections are annoying and inconvenient for residents.

This research feels like a bit of a missed opportunity as the data only goes up to 2019, and it’s probably a bit unfair to describe Cornwall as the worst when they only have responses from less than half of councils.

Children facing long health waits

Analysis by the Nuffield Trust and Health Foundation found access to core health services in England has been squeezed, threatening to leave behind a generation of young people, with support for both both physical and mental health badly disrupted, with the plight of children overlooked.

This is an area where FOI can be useful for digging into how children have been affected – either in different areas or accessing different services.

The Inverness Courier found the number of young people in the Highlands waiting more than a year to see a mental health specialist has risen eight-fold in the past two years., with 200 under 18-year-olds were on the waiting list in the NHS Highland area as of last November.

Super landlords

Landlords who rent out houses in multiple occupancy (HMOs) need to register these with councils – in some areas all landlords need to register.

A request by The National found, in Edinburgh, the city’s “super landlords” own more than a quarter of HMO properties too, with 26% of HMO’s owned by merely a dozen landlords – each owning more than 50 properties each.

Requests like this may run into refusals because of personal data, but there are probably arguments around how identifiable individuals area, and also legitimate interest arguments around public interest and the fact that HMO registers should be at least somewhat publicly available – for example, Barnet’s is available online.

Parking ticket hotspots

Plenty of people park places they shouldn’t (or for longer than they should), and plenty of those people get caught, and there are often places where people are more likely to risk it, or where traffic wardens concentrate patrols.

Tourism hotspots including the Promenade and areas around Blackpool Pleasure Beach proved the places in Blackpool last year where drivers were most likely to have fallen foul of traffic wardens, according to the Blackpool Gazette.

One staircase out

The recent controversy over a planning application by developer Ballymore to build a 51-storey residential tower block in Canary Wharf, east London, with only one staircase is potentially a starting point to look at similar developments that may have reaised concerns.

Inside Housing found in the year up to 14 January 2022, the London Fire Brigade raised concerns with 129 planning applications – although five submissions were cancelled – specifically with regard to proposals for single staircases in buildings that are four storeys or more in height.

Two planning applications were pulled after LFB objected, so there may be other objections going in for similar projects in other parts of the country.

Most popular books

A slightly more upbeat use of FOI – to get a list of the most borrowed books from the local libraries.

Fife Today found locals love crime fiction – both reading it and writing it according to the figures.

James Oswald, who writes and farms in north east Fife, is growing an army of fans for his Inspector McLean series, with ‘What Will Burn’ – the 11th novel in the sequence – topping the list with 435 loan transactions between January 1 and December 31 last year. Another of his books came in fourth.

Another Fife homegrown author, Ian Rankin came in third and 16th, and another Fifer, Val McDermid made it in to fifth and 17th.

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