Freedom of Information in the news – week ending 30/9/22 – #FOIFriday

If you find your FOI requests aren’t coming back within the time limit, you’re probably not the only one. Compliance with the 20 working day limit can be hit and miss across public bodies.

For example, at Reading Council, of the 289 FOIs filed in April to June, 182 were answered within the 20 working day period, or 63%, according to an update at an Audit and Governance Committee meeting.

Michael Graham, the council’s assistant director legal and democratic services admitted the response times are ‘disappointingly and stubbornly low’.

Adding: “It’s still rubbish.”

When asked might be causing the problem, which saw more than a third of requests not answered in time, Mr Graham replied: “We believe it’s cultural. People are busy in their day jobs, they’ve got vacancies in services, there are some real pressures out there.

“FOIs complaints, councillor enquiries, all those things which are really important, information rights are perhaps viewed as something else which they’ve got to do and there’s a deadline to do it, and that’s the nut we’ve got to crack.”

While Mr Graham did say that changes to structure, teamworking, software and policies recommended in 2019 have been undertaken, he conceded these changes “haven’t made any impact”. The department has now pledged to devise an action plan which involves improving communications and make sure FOIs are received by the correct council officers to deal with.

Hospitals over capacity

A different way of looking at the pressures on A&Es across the country.

Edinburgh Royal Infirmary’s A&E department operated beyond capacity every day last month, the Scottish Conservatives have revealed. The party said statistics provided through a freedom of information request present a “terrifying snapshot” of the pressures faced by emergency departments.

Routine hourly checks by staff at the hospital showed that its A&E capacity of 40 patients was exceeded throughout August by an average of 200% – or 80 patients – at any given time, EdinburghLive reports. On its busiest day over the summer months – August 15 – the department reported looking after 144 patients, meaning it was over capacity by 104.

Children arrested for drug crime

An ITV News investigation has found 5,425 children under 16 have been arrested for drug offences since 2018. A Freedom of Information request to police forces in England and Wales also revealed some of the shocking ways that children were getting exploited by criminals, including:

  • a nine-year-old arrested in Derbyshire for drug dealing.
  • a 13-year-old in West Yorkshire arrested for supplying heroin and crack cocaine.
  • a 14-year-old in Liverpool arrested for producing their own cannabis.
  • a 15-year-old child in North Wales arrested for dealing heroin.

The nine-year-old child picked up by Derbyshire Police was not charged, as children under 10 cannot be charged with a criminal offence.

Absence fines

This FOI request looks at councils across the country to make comparisons between those who use fines to deal with children missing school, and places that don’t.

Parents in England whose children miss school face harsher penalties depending on where they live, a BBC Panorama investigation has found.

In the past school year, Luton had the highest rate – 97 fines per 1,000 pupils. Bolton was not far behind at 89 per 1,000. And yet, in response to a BBC Freedom of Information request, Warrington and City of London councils said they had issued no penalties at all.

Negligence payouts

The Welsh NHS was forced to pay out more than £66m to settle clinical negligence claims in the last financial year, WalesOnline reports. A freedom of information request made by the Welsh Conservatives found 730 claims were made in 2021-22 and 462 of them were settled at a cost of £66,376,493.57.

This was an increase on the £64,099,571.75 paid out in 2020-21 and £41,050,262.19 in 2019-20. Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board in north Wales was responsible for more than a third of the overall total (£23,489,528) in 2020-21 after settling 231 claims.

Long way home

Families on the housing waiting list are being sent as far away as Cambridgeshire – 85 miles from their former South London homes. At least one resident in need of a home was sent to live in Huntingdonshire by Lewisham Council.

Other people were sent to towns in the home counties, hours away from the South London borough, such as Bedford in Bedfordshire and Stevenage in Hertfordshire. The figures were revealed following a Freedom of Information request to Lewisham Council by the Local Democracy Reporting Service, according to the News Shopper.

Bad habits

A rocketing number of speeding offences is reflective of the “bad” and “risky” driving habits picked up when there were fewer cars on the road during the peak of Covid, Essex Live reports. Essex Police recorded 5,013 speeding offences in June 2019. That figure more than doubled to 10,284 in June 2022, according to a Freedom of Information request by the LDRS.

Roger Hirst, Police, Fire, and Crime Commissioner for Essex said: “What we do know is that during lockdown the percentage of bad driving went through the roof. There were very many fewer passenger miles driven but there were an awful lot of people driving badly during that period.

“And what seems to have happened is that people picked up worse driving habits during lockdown because the roads were freer and those worse driving habits are sticking now the volume of traffic is back up again. So we have quite a lot more bad driving. Anecdotally it is not just speeding. It is quite an array of bad driving – not stopping at stop signs, overtaking on the near side on two lane carriageways. There is a lot of risky stuff happening.”

He said it was particularly concerning to see the number of speeding offences being perpetrated in 30mph zones – from 1,898 in June 2019 to 5,529 in June 2022. The number of speeding offences in 70mph zones went up from 139 to 950 in the same period.

Inefficient homes

It’s hard to save money on you gas and electricity bills if your home is inefficient and harder to heat.

Two in five council homes in Wick are below energy efficiency targets, according to north MSP, Edward Mountain. He said a Freedom of Information request revealed that of the 873 social homes in the town, 527 fell below the energy performance rating in August, the John O’Groats Journal and Caithness Chronicle reports.

The Conservative Highlands and Islands MSP has called on the local authority to take urgent action to deal with the issue and would like to see upgrades to council homes across the north being undertaken at the same pace as those in the private rented sector.

Mr Mountain said: “Given the cost of energy crisis, the Highland Council must urgently set out its timetable for upgrading the energy efficiency of its social homes in Wick.


Drunk and disorderly behaviour in an East Riding library was one of the reasons people have been banned from council buildings this year, HullLive reports.

Figures from East Riding Council show four people have also been banned from local libraries due to criminal damage since 2016. A total of 13 people have been banned from leisure centres for antisocial behaviour and one from a customer service centre for abusive behaviour since April, figures also showed.

It comes as figures from a freedom of information request showed 99 people were banned from East Riding libraries, leisure and customer service centres since 2016. A total of 49 were banned from libraries, three from customer service centres and 47 from leisure centres.

High hedges

More than 90 formal complaints have been made to local authorities in Northern Ireland since 2017 about boundary hedges being too tall and blocking light reaching their property, figures obtained by Belfast Live show. Disgruntled householders can ask their council to investigate under specific legislation dedicated to dealing with problem high hedges.

The complaints process is meant to be a “last resort” when efforts to resolve the issue informally have broken down. It can lead to remedial action if the council finds the complaint is justified. Evergreen and semi-evergreen hedges of more than two metres tall and affecting light reaching a domestic property can be investigated, although not all hedges above this height will need to be cut back.

No newt is good news

A total of 129 new housing schemes made an application for a licence to mitigate against the impact of great crested newts on the sites in the past five years. A Freedom of Information (FOI) request made by Inside Housing found that 77 minor developments and 52 major schemes had made a request for a district level licence (DLL) between 2017-18 and 2021-22.

Kent had the most DLL applications with 58, followed by Norfolk and Suffolk with 47, and Cheshire with 40. Great crested newts are a European protected species, meaning it is illegal to capture, kill or disturb them without a licence.

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