Freedom of Information in the news – week ending 2/12/22 – #FOIFriday

This week’s FOI Friday is a mixture of serious stories highlighting the pressure the NHS is under and looking into the lack of action on police who send offensive messages.

But there’s also stories on council meeting viewing figures, the cost of blocking a road with a council worker on a chair, and the fate of a cardboard cop.

High turnover

A creative use of FOI to investigate a tip-off.

A former staff member in Welsh Tory MS Janet Finch-Saunders’ office has claimed there was an intense level of control in her office, and they had to ask to go to the toilet. She called the allegations “unpleasant and ridiculous”.

An FOI showed Ms Finch-Saunders has advertised more jobs than any other Member of the Senedd since 2016, with 22 job adverts. No other MS had advertised more than 14 and many have only advertised two or three times to recruit new staff members. Most MSs employ three or four people.

WalesOnline said if it’s assumed Janet Finch-Sauders has three staff members, this means she has had a complete turnover in staff (in terms of numbers) every year. But for some of the period concerned, she was employing her husband as an office manager for 37 hours a week.

Slow ambulances

A Freedom of Information request, submitted by the Liberal Democrats, has revealed the postcode lottery patients face when calling 999.

Category one callers — those from people with life-threatening illnesses or injuries — faced a wait of nearly three-times longer in some towns and cities compared to others, the Daily Mail reports.

In Mid Devon, where paramedics were slowest to arrive on the scene, patients waited 15 minutes and 20 seconds, on average.

But in Hammersmith, west London, patients with the same severity of illness waited just five minutes and 48 seconds.

Inappropriate relationships

Dozens of teachers and teaching assistants were reported for having sexual or inappropriate relationships with pupils in Birmingham during the last school year, BirminghamLive has revealed. Investigations were launched after allegations were made during 2021/22.

Eighteen teachers and another 19 teaching assistants in the city faced allegations over their behaviour towards schoolchildren. Reports may have related to sexual relationships or other inappropriate contact, such as messaging over phones or social media.

The details were given to Birmingham Live by the city’s Children’s Trust following a freedom of information request.

Unsafe staffing levels

Figures uncovered by the Welsh Conservatives have revealed the crisis at the heart of Welsh A&E departments as every single one failed to meet safe staffing levels.

According to Freedom of Information requests made to Wales’ health boards, all major hospitals are falling well short of the recommended ‘baseline’ for staffing levels in emergency departments, as per the first week in September, the Leader reports.

The Royal College of Emergency Medicine (RCEM) sets a ‘baseline’ for the number of WTE (working-time equivalent) consultants which should be employed in the department to guarantee safe cover.

No action for offensive messages

No West Midlands Police officers have faced disciplinary action over allegations of inappropriate messages on WhatsApp or social media made in the last two years, BirminghamLive has found. Seven cops have been investigated over text messages or social media posts since 2020.

Five were judged to have done nothing wrong, while two others were found to have cases to answer but let off with “reflective practice”, which falls short of disciplinary action. Of the two officers who were found to have made unacceptable comments, one related to a post which was deemed “discriminatory” while another made “offensive remarks” in the comments section of an online news article.

Other allegations, which were investigated but led to no action after it was decided officers had no case to answer, included:

  • Abusive language used to describe a supervisor on Twitter
  • Inappropriate comments on Facebook that “could be considered to be discriminatory”
  • “Sexualised jokes” towards a female police constable, who was contacted on social media and WhatsApp
  • Discriminatory Twitter posts
  • Sharing information in a WhatsApp group to members of the public

Homeschooling on the rise

Homeschooling in Ceredigion has risen by 821 per cent over the last decade, according to figures supplied through a Freedom of Information request.

Homeschooling providers Wolsey Hall Oxford say that 28 children were homeschooled in Ceredigion in 2013, yet that figure had leapt to 258 by 2022, the Tivyside Advertiser reports.

“In the last four years alone, Ceredigion has seen an overall rise in homeschooling of 52 per cent,” said a spokesperson.

Viewing figures

How many people are watching Shetland Council meetings online?

Since September 6, Shetland Islands Council has broadcast its main meetings live online from the new St Ringan’s chamber in a bid to improve accessibility to local democracy. In the Covid pandemic the council did introduce YouTube uploads of certain meetings after they had finished, but they were taken from Microsoft Teams and did not enjoy the same audio and visual quality of the new videos.

As of Friday (November 25) there had been 1,167 views across the ten broadcast meetings since September, Shetland News reports. Nearly 500 were live views, and 669 were post-meeting. A full council meeting on 28 September attracted 112 live views during the meeting, as well as 121 archive hits, making it the most-watched session so far.

‘You can’t come through’

Coventry City Council has spent £196,118.31 to change a 100m stretch of road outside the council HQ into a one-way street and enforce the new rules, a freedom of information request by the BBC has uncovered.

The council has been enforcing the rules using a council worker with a chair to stop people using the closed road, but has admitted this may not be a long-term solution.

Cardboard cops

A Freedom of Information (FOI) request to Police Scotland in October 2021 revealed that in 2018 and 2019, J Division of Police Scotland (Lothian and Borders) bought a total of four Pop-up Bobs at a cost of £891.71.

‘Pop-up Bob’, a nickname coined by West Mercia Police, which first used them, is a cardboard cut-out of a police officer holding a speed gun. The aim is to use the cut-out to deter drivers from speeding.

Border Telegraph reports, of one used in Carlops, that “Pop-up Bob was assaulted last Monday morning and someone ran off with his legs.”

The previous FOI had stated: “No analysis has been done in order to consider effectiveness of these ‘Pop-up Bob’ signs.”

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