Freedom of Information in the news – week ending 20/5/22 – #FOIFriday

This week’s Freedom of Information ideas include repetitive buskers, council staff working from home, and a pandemic dog boom leading to a dog attack boom.

Dog attacks

There’s been a number of tragic cases of children being attacked by dogs in recent weeks, which has brought the issue of out-of-control dogs back to the fore.

Figures released by Cheshire police under the Freedom of Information Act showed in the year 2019-20, Runcorn had 20 recorded incidents of owners with a dangerously out of control dog that caused injury to a person or assistance dog, according to In Your Area. This figure jumped to 31 recorded incidents in 2020-21, followed by another jump to 39 in 2021-22.

The RSPCA said a rise in dog ownership during the pandemic may have a knock-on effect on such figures.

Homeless hotels

Councils have been having placing increasing number of people facing homelessness in bed and breakfast accommodation in recent years (often due to a lack of alternative options).

Following a Freedom of Information request by the Express, alarming statistics show an increase in the amount spent by Wakefield Council on short-term hotel rooms, from just under £100,000 for the financial year 2016/17, to £1.3 million in 2020/21. The figures for the last financial year were at £1.1 million in February, and have probably surpassed the amount spent last year.

The council admits the spending is not sustainable with a need to slash that bill but appears to be struggling to find enough alternative options, with warnings that the rising cost of everything, including rent may be set to make things worse.

Home working

The Government seem to be really keen that civil servants (and the rest of use) get back to their offices, but they’re likely not the only public sector workers that have done a major shift to homeworking.

In the week from March 28 to April 1, there were 515 desk bookings made in Ballard House, Windsor House and Midland House, Plymouth Council’s three main corporate office buildings, according to Plymouth Live. It estimates daily usage was about a third (36%) of currently available desk, which would be about 8% of all available desks (not having enough desk for your ordered in staff is the opposite end of the issue).

If home and flexible working has been thoroughly embraced by staff, the upcoming question may be what happens to now under-used buildings?

Temporary staff

The great thing about What Do They Know is you can see what requests other people have been making (this is also not a good thing if you’re a journalist and trying to keep your exclusive FOI figures under wraps).

The Gazette and Herald has picked up one of a series of requests looking at how much council’s are spending on temporary agency staff – in 2020-21, the council spent £5,055,739 on temporary staff from recruitment agencies, in 2021-2022, this figure dropped to £3,776,447.

With vacancies overtaking jobseekers for the first time on record, public bodies staffing struggles may be one to watch, particularly as here the council says the majority of spend is for social worker and occupational therapists within Children’s and Adults Social Care.

Zombie buskers

Or rather buskers who play Zombie by The Cranberries on repeat. This was among the complaints to Dublin Council about buskers in the city centre, according to The Times.

Councils issue permits allowing busking, so are also responsible for setting rules on what buskers can do (mostly not make too much noise). In Dublin, backing tracks are banned and performances are limited to one hour on Grafton Street. Acts must also have a sufficient repertoire to play without repetition for at least 30 minutes (hence the issue when an act only seems to know one song). As such they’re also the ones being complained to about FOI and having to take any enforcement action.

Noisy neighbours

On the subject of too much noise – couples having noisy nookie sparked at least 168 moans from neighbours last year, according to The Sun.

While this is one angle on neighbour noise, like littering and potholes, it’s one of those local problems people love to complain about.

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