Freedom of Information in the news – week ending 9/12/22 – #FOIFriday

The Freedom of Information Act came about after a manifesto promise from Labour in the run up to the 1997 election. In its argument for more transparency, the party accused the Tories of being “afflicted by sleaze”, having “debased democracy”, and supporting “secretive government”.

Sound familiar?

If it does, this could mean a boost for the FOI Act. A recently released report on Gordon Brown’s Commission on the UK’s Future suggests extending and supporting the Act might be on Labour’s agenda come next election.

It says: “Transparency is critical in ensuring central government works in the interests of all the people of this country. Yet in recent years Whitehall, which has responsibility for the Information Commissioner’s Office, has increasingly obstructed freedom of information.”

The suggested improvements could include moving oversight of the Information Commissioner’s Office from central government to parliament and expanding the Act to apply to all new public service contracts delivered by private companies.

Want to make good use of the Freedom of Information Act as is? A round-up of stories from this week might provide some inspiration for requests to send…

Child victims of race hate

Cases of racially or religiously aggravated crime have reached record levels, Home Office data shows. Figures released by the Government show there were 2,206 offences committed in Essex in the year ending March 2022 that were believed to be aggravated or motivated by either racism or religious intolerance.

A Freedom of Information (FOI) request to Essex Police seen by EssexLive shows there were 314 victims of racial hate crime aged under 18 during the previous financial year – a rise on 207 just 12 months earlier. The figures also show a startling 96 per cent rise in victims from pre-pandemic figures in 2017/18 when there were 160 child victims.

Within the 2021/22 data, 172 victims were aged between 11 and 14 years old. There were also three victims aged less than 12 months old. The highest number of victims during the 12 month period were children just 13-years-old.

Long waits for cancer treatment

Cancer patients are being forced to wait as long as two years to start cancer treatment on Scotland’s NHS, the Scottish Daily Express reports.

Data from a Freedom of Information (FOI) request from the Scottish Conservatives revealed one patient had waited 721 days to start cancer treatment.

This is nearly double the wait time compared to five years ago in 2018 when one person waited 364 days to start treatment for cancer.

Hospitals at risk of collapse

That’s the buildings physically collapsing, rather than the threat of services buckling under winter pressures.

The “likely” collapse of reinforced panels in a hospital could be “catastrophic”, the BBC reports.

A risk assessment for Hinchingbrooke Hospital in Cambridgeshire found levels of concern over the use of Reinforced Autoclaved Aerated Concrete (RAAC).

The papers were obtained via a Freedom of Information (FOI) request by campaigner Minh Alexander.

She said it was “dreadful” that staff and patients “were expected to tolerate unacceptable risks”.

Caroline Walker, chief executive for North West Anglia NHS Foundation Trust, said it was keeping “a very close eye on the RAAC structural issues”.

Cancelled operations

Thousands of appointments have been cancelled, postponed or rearranged so far in 2022 by the trust covering Burton’s Queen’s Hospital, StaffordshireLive reports.

As of the end of October, 275,847 – 260,914 outpatient and 14,933 theatre – slots have been dropped or rearranged during 2022 at the Royal Derby Hospital, Queen’s Hospital in Burton, the Florence Nightingale Community Hospital in Derby, the Sir Robert Peel Community Hospital in Tamworth and the Samuel Johnson Community Hospital in Lichfield. The data was obtained through a Freedom of Information request.

Fuel theft

A Freedom of Information request by CoventryLive shows one petrol station had been especially hard hit by fuel thefts. The Morrisons petrol station at Alvis Retail Park has been targeted by thieves 41 times since the start of the year, with almost £3,500 worth of fuel reportedly stolen. A spokesman for Morrisons said: “We are working closely with the local police in response to a number of recent thefts at our Coventry petrol station.”

The Shell at Whitmore Park was the second-most targeted with £1,086.06 worth of fuel stolen since the turn of the year. RVT Wyken, MPK on Foleshill Road, Woodway on Hinckley Road, and Street Record, on Caludon Park Avenue, were the other petrol forecourts to have had the highest amount of thefts, amounting to a combined total of £328.77.

Empty offices

The Welsh Government is planning to offer office space to other public bodies after a post-Covid pivot towards flexible working that has led to around one in 10 civil servants working from the office on an average day, Civil Service World reports.

In October, 11% of employees with office-based contracts were in the office on a given day, the Welsh Government said in response to a Freedom of Information request. This was a slight increase on 10.4% daily average attendance in September for the 10 offices measured.

Meanwhile, Conwy’s state-of-the-art Colwyn Bay council offices cost £639,977 in energy bills over a three-year period, despite at times being only a quarter full of staff, the Daily Post reports. An application under the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act revealed Coed Pella was occupied by just 25% of the staff able to work from the building during August of this year.

Finders keepers?

Nine people who handed in more than £2,000 in cash they found in public to police were allowed to keep it.

Data from a Freedom of Information (FOI) Act sent to West Yorkshire Police showed almost £10,000 in cash was handed over to the force across a three-month period this year, according to the Telegraph and Argus.

In total, £9,889.24 was handed in during those months with £5,023.14 returned to the owner of the cash, or person who had lost it, and £2,486 given back to those who found it.

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