Freedom of Information in the news – week ending 4/2/22 – #FOIFriday

This week, potential uses of FOI include finding the hotspots for the issues that really annoy people, and digging into the information that doesn’t make the official stats.

Cancelled appointments

One of the potential impacts of pandemic is likely to be the cancellation of hospital appointments and operations – as hospitals had to cope with Covid cases and staff absences. While many patients may be understanding, there’s still an impact from having to wait longer for treatment.

More than 18,000 appointments at Dorset County Hospital have been cancelled or postponed since the start of 2020, according to the Dorset Echo.

However, the figures also show the number of operations cancelled or postponed was lower in 2020 and 2021 than in 2019, suggesting these kind of hospital pressures have been around a while.

Anti-social areas

For issues liable to cause lots of complaints by residents (littering, anti-social behaviour, poor parking), sometimes finding out where the worst places are can make a good story.

There’s likely to be plenty of places people recognise as suffering from problems with anti-social behaviour, among WalesOnline’s top 20 streets, and plenty they think have been missed.

Rubbish dumped

Among the much complained about issues is flytipping – FOI can help get numbers on how why spread the issue is and how councils are tackling the problem.

Those numbers, particularly where people feel the problem is getting worse or not being tackled, can lead to more questions for councils, with the Daily Record reporting about environment bosses being grilled over 4,000 fly-tipping incidents in Renfrewshire in two years.

The perils of cycling

One of the problems with FOI is that responses don’t come back that quickly, which is a problem if you’re looking to follow up a currently newsworthy story. However, if you see something that’s likely to be a story in a few months time, you can potentially get figures to tie in with that.

The new changes to the Highway Code mean there’s more interest in cyclist safety at the moment, but the changes have been planned since July last year. The new changes aim to prioritise and protect more vulnerable road users such as cyclists.

Figures reported by the Liverpool Echo show an increasing number of collisions involving cars and bikes – 343 reported to Merseyside Police in 2019, in 2020, 393 , and in 2021, up until October 31, 399 incidents, with 261 cyclists ‘seriously injured’ over the three-year period.

Taxi drivers with previous convictions

Convictions for serious violence, driving offences and other law-breaking are among those held by cabbies in Barrow, according to The Mail.

Some jobs require a disclosure and barring check, to try and ensure individuals who could pose a risk aren’t allowed to work with vulnerable people. What’s being picked up as people put themselves forward for roles, and what happens in the decision making process can be an interesting story, particularly if there’s been concerns about the standards of those employed.

Excluded informally

While data on formal exclusions is already available, and shows Black children, and those from Gypsy, Roma and Traveller backgrounds, are disproportionately affected, The Voice reports these groups are more likely to be informally excluded as well.

Hundreds of Black schoolchildren are being taken out of their classrooms and some are encouraged never to return through the practice of informal exclusions, which are often not recorded by the schools who practice them as a way of off-booking exclusions without it being shown on school records.

Libraries in lockdown

If a service is run by a public body, you can use FOI to find out more about what’s going on in that service.

Research by the University of Strathclyde found, in the vast majority of libraries, increases in e-book use during the pandemic accounted for on average 10-20% of the physical loans that might have been expected had the libraries been open.

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