Freedom of Information in the news – week ending 25/11/22 – #FOIFriday

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas #FOI requests in this week’s FOIFriday.

It may be cutting it a bit fine for sending in your festive questions and getting a response back in time (it’s 19 working days till Christmas Day!), given some public bodies aren’t great at timeliness.

If you need some more timeless ideas, there’s plenty of those this week too!

In other FOI news, the Oversight Board at Meta (which independently reviews moderation decisions at Facebook and Instagram) has used FOI requests as part of it’s investigation into takedowns of drill music videos requested by the police.

As part of its investigation, Meta’s Oversight Board said it filed multiple freedom of information requests with the Met Police. It said it found the force had filed 286 requests with social media and streaming companies to take down or review posts about drill music in the 12 months from June 2021, and that 255 of those had resulted in the removal of content.

Over the same period, it had not made a single request to remove any other music genre.

Christmas sparkle

Your local area may have lost a bit of its twinkle in recent year’s as budgets have been squeezed. And this year may be set to be even worse. Although Christmas and other holiday decorations and events (and free parking) can be a helpful way of supporting local businesses that are also facing a cost of living squeeze.

Peterborough is the fourth biggest spender in the UK and the second biggest spender in England on Christmas celebrations, according to CambridgeshireLive.

However, Peterborough has seen spending drop by around 60% since 2016. Six years ago the city spent around £135,800 on celebrations but in 2022 the budget stands at £52,582.

It’s still doing better than Cambridge, which confirmed earlier this month that the annual North Pole event won’t be going ahead this year. The main provider pulled out back in September and after opening up for alternate providers, the newspaper reports, the council agreed that it would be a good year to ‘take a break’.

Bang for your buck

If the cost of living crisis (and other council cuts) are making it harder to put on Christmas light switch-ons and the like, then similar impacts have been felt on other events.

Several councils cancelled or cut back on fireworks displays this year, but in Oldham council leader, Cllr Amanda Chadderton, said the local authority considered cancelling the event, but that the cost was “proportionate to the joy it brought families across the borough”.

The cost of hosting this year’s free Big Bang Bonfire event was £41,696.35, according to data from a Freedom of Information request, the Oldham Times reports.

Unregistered HMOs

Landlords of “houses in multiple occupation”, those with five or more tenants, are required to have a licence – the cost of which can vary between local authorities.

Failure to obtain this can result in landlords being fined and being forced to repay rent to tenants. London landlords have been ordered to pay up to £45,000 for failing to have an HMO licence, according to council data obtained via a freedom of information request lodged by The Telegraph.

Landlords were typically fined £10,000-15,000. In one borough 40 fines were issued, totalling £172,000. In the City of Westminster, five landlords were handed criminal convictions, the FOIs showed.

Spending a penny

Visitors to Skegness have had to pay 40p per toilet trip after the 20p increase. The decision to increase the charge from April 1 was taken by East Lindsey District Council to “facilitate the continued delivery of award-winning clean and welcoming toilet facilities”.

It has now emerged that it made more than £30,000 between April and November since the price change came into effect, Lincolnshire Live reports.

The decision was controversial, with some labelling it “disgusting” and “ridiculous”. A response to a Freedom of Information request shows East Lindsey District Council had a net income of £31,740 from April 22 to November 14 made from the money to use the public toilets in Skegness, LincolnshireLive reports.

Overdue library books

Someone in Oxfordshire needs to take their borrowed copy of the Great Gatsby back to the library.

After a freedom of information request by the Herald Series asking for the 10 most overdue books. The response reveals the book which has been overdue the longest is a copy of F.Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 novel The Great Gatsby, which has been on loan since September 28, 2015.

Is is ironic that one of missing books is titled Thief!?

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