Freedom of Information in the news – week ending 18/3/22 – #FOIFriday

This week’s Freedom of Information round-up takes some different looks at the impact of the cost of living crisis, as well as police accused of abuse.

There’s also a reminder that if all else fails, dog mess will always be a top priority for residents.

Cost of living

It’s not just households that will be hit by rising energy prices. Public bodies will also see their gas and electricity bills rise – at a time when finances are already tight and services stretched.

The Courier found, local authorities across Tayside are braced for their energy bills to soar by an eye-watering £7 million in the coming year, putting even more pressure on vital public services. As the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities points out, as large users of energy – in schools, care homes, leisure centres, depots, etc – rising energy costs, on top of other pressures including pay, inflation, supplies and ongoing loss of income, will ultimately mean less money for services.

(Un)affordable rent

Another area where families may be feeling the squeeze is in keeping up with their rent payments.

This interesting article from Inside Housing looks at the way in which some council tenants pay social rent, and others pay (more expensive) affordable rents, depending on how and when the local authority acquired their home. Within this, a FOI showed, of tenants paying affordable rent in Swindon, 47% were in arrears (228 out of 486), compared to 36% of social rent tenants (3,542 out of 9,789). The average arrears are £150 higher for affordable rent than social rent.

Staff shortages

One of the major pressures facing the NHS as it continues to cope with Covid and looks at treating all the other health problems people have (some of which may have been pushed aside by the pandemic) is a shortfall in the number of staff needed to work effectively.

That shortfall may be made up to some extent with temporary staff to plug the worst gaps. Data obtained under FOI by the Courier shows the wage bill paid out by NHS Tayside for temporary GPs in surgeries run by them has risen over the last three years. That follows news Ryehill and Friockheim health centres could be facing potential closure because of a shortage of GPs.

Domestic abuse

More problematic police officers (and staff), as FOI continues to show the problem of lawbreaking (and potential fewer consequences) by those employed to enforce laws.

Eight out of ten police employees accused of domestic abuse are still working, an investigation by The Bureau of Investigative Journalism and ITV has found.

The figures, obtained through FOI, show more than 1,300 officers and staff have been reported for alleged domestic abuse since 2018. Only 36 have been dismissed. 203 have retired, resigned or left for other reasons.

As well as keeping their jobs, police employees across the country were more likely on average to avoid prosecution, with only 3.4% of the reports leading to a conviction. The conviction rate for the wider general public is twice as high.

Missing children

Children in care who are victims of exploitation are going missing on average ten times each a year, figures in the Evening Standard show.

Of the 3,033 looked-after children who were identified by local authorities as exploited in 2020 – up 5% from the previous year – 48% – 1,468 children – went missing. In comparison, figures from the Department for Education show that one in 10 children in care went missing in 2020-21, while in the UK around one in 200 children are reported missing every year.

Rape cases

This is an FOI that maybe didn’t need to be an FOI.

Rape cases reported to West Midlands Police have doubled in four years – with just a fraction of suspects being charged, new figures in the Express and Star show.

These kind of figures, with a bit of a time lag, should be obtainable from the police recorded crime and outcomes open data tables, as well as information on other crimes as well.

Drug drones

Police are hunting criminals who used a drone to try to smuggle drugs and a mobile phone into HMP Inverness, the Press and Journal reports.

The FOI reveals drones have been involved in a number of similar incidents at prisons in recent years, suggesting trying to fly things over the walls is probably a fairly widespread tactic for trying to get things into prisons.

Dog mess

Wyre is the 11th worst place in the country when it comes to dog fouling, according to a new national survey, while Blackpool comes in 35th, according to the Blackpool Gazette.

From the point of view of locals who care about dog mess (and locals really care about dog mess), Wyre actually might be one of the better councils as the results are based on the number of fines issued – Wyre issued a total of 113 fines, Blackpool 46 and Fylde 11. Blackpool’s Talbot Ward PACT (Police and Community Together) group has made tackling dog fouling in its area a priority in recent months.

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