Freedom of Information in the news – week ending 13/5/22 – #FOIFriday

This week’s FOIs include bailiffs calling councils rather than council taxpayers, teens stuck in swings, and tea and coffee at council meetings.

Yes, it’s an FOI Friday on a Friday

Council debts

FOI requests regularly show that councils are willing to use bailiffs to enforce payment of council tax, but a freedom of information request has shown that sometimes it’s the council’s door bailiffs are knocking on.

Brixton Buzz has highlighted how bailiffs turned up at the Town Hall demanding more than £1m. While this incident, which relates to a legal case in which a Foster Carer took the Council to Court, ended with the judgement being set aside, Lambeth made three separate payments to the law enforcement officers, £1,961.28, £2,855.60 and £4,268.20, in relation to other cases.

Strip searches

It seemed likely the horrifying case of Child Q, a black 15-year-old girl who was strip searched while at school, would likely raise questions about how many other forces had used similar practices.

West Yorkshire Police figures show 285 youngsters were subjected to this type of search between the beginning of April 2017 and the end of March this year, according to the Telegraph and Argus. Two 12-year-old boys, who were both black, were searched in the 2019-20 period, the figures reveal.

Stuck teens

Fire crews don’t just fight fires (or, on occasions, wilful fire raising if they’re in Scotland), they also carry out all kinds of rescues (including sometimes, cats up trees).

Since May 2019, Humberside Fire and Rescue Service has been called to 105 scenarios where somebody was trapped in a child or baby-sized swing, according to Hull Live. While some of these were genuine call-outs involving young children or infants, many were older youths. One such incident saw a crew from Bransholme Fire Station called out to a 17-year-old girl who was stuck in a baby swing. And in June 2019, fire crews in Bridlington were called to a 20-year-old woman stuck in a child’s swing, having to use tools to release her.

The fire service expressed concerns during the pandemic that youths were attempting to get into the swings for stunts filmed and posted on TikTok.

False fire alarms

However, another thing fire crews have to spend time doing is going to false alarms (in this case, also caused by teens).

New figures in the Glasgow Times show fire fighters were called out to city secondaries a total of 494 times between 2018 and April this year. Fire bosses said each false alarm – which they dub Unwanted Fire Alarm Signal (UFAS) – costs the service an average of £1970, totalling £973,180 for Glasgow schools.

The worst offender was Bannerman High School in Baillieston, where fire crews were called out to false alarms 58 times in that period.

Police vehicles

Information obtained by an FOI request submitted by the Northamptonshire Telegraph to Northamptonshire Police last year shows 222 police vehicles were damaged in 2021 up to November 10. Of those, 103 of these were damaged in road traffic collisions – although this figure includes “minor scuffs” – and 11 were damaged beyond repair.

In Northamptonshire, 13 of the 2021 incidents were classified as damaged deliberately by a member of the public.

Would be interesting to know why an FOI obviously submitted in November last year (if it was submitted more recently, it would have made more sense to ask for the whole year), has taken until May (about six months later) to get into the paper – delays responding, refined request, internal review for refusal?

Lost property

If you don’t have an FOI-able public transport system to quiz about lost sex toys, other lost property may end up at the local police station, and from there the central police lost property office.

The lost property section at Fettes Police Station was holding 374 mobile phones, 609 documents, 369 purses and wallets, and 230 bicycles, at the time of asking. There are also 27 rings, one single edible, two prams, five motor vehicle items and one ‘package’ (whatever that means), according to Edinburgh Live.

Tea breaks at meetings

Redcar and Cleveland Council spent £1,347 between April, last year, and the end of March on refreshments at its council meetings, according to Teesside Live. The figure included notional staff time and other costs as well as the actual cost of tea and coffee.

This may be a bit of a bargain for keeping councillors caffeinated – Cardiff Council had a budget line of £113,000 for meeting refreshments back in 2011/12 (although the cost may have reduced since).

I don’t

In recent years the number of places people can get married has expanded as rules allowing a variety of places to become approved venues have been relaxed – if you fancy getting married in museums, football grounds and bowling alleys.

But not all those venues are going to prove popular.

Kettering’s crematorium was scrapped as a wedding venue after holding just ONE ceremony in three years, according to the Northamptonshire Telegraph.

When contacted for comment North Northamptonshire Council admitted they did not renew the licence in 2021 because usage had been so low. The site no longer features in a list of approved venues.

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