Freedom of Information in the news – week ending 17/2/2023 – #FOIFriday

Journalists and businesses are usually the target for complaints about the misuse of the Act when public bodies are feeling under pressure from lots of FOI requests.

Apparently, we can now add political parties to this list.

As the number of requests reaches record levels, NHS Shetland chief executive Michael Dickson has said the time pressure this puts on staff at a small health board is “enormous”. He told a meeting that a large part of the issue is political parties putting FOI requests to every health board in Scotland.

You may have noticed in these round-ups a certain level of enthusiasm from Scottish Tories, Labour and Lib Dems for FOI as a tool for holding the government to account – which is one of the things it’s there for (it would be good if the enthusiasm could be passed on to those in government).

Schools at risk of collapse

The government has said it does not know which schools are at risk of collapse, despite admitting last year that buildings collapsing is now “very likely”.

The Department for Education’s response to a freedom of information request from Unison, seen by Schools Week, states the number of buildings at risk and the names of the schools affected are “not held” by the department. Broadly, the DfE has a survey but that is a visual inspection of schools, while it also has a building safety risk level, which puts the risk of collapse at “very likely” but that is a more general risk based on the age and construction of buildings across the country.

A Schools Week investigation, also using FOI, recently found at least 41 schools across 15 local authorities had reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC), a “crumbly” type of concrete used widely in flat-roofed school buildings, and another 150 are either suspected to have RAAC or need extensive investigation.

Hospital repairs risk

The maintenance backlog at Furness General Hospital stands at more than £19 million with more than 120 repairs needed. The scale of the backlog was revealed following a freedom of information request by the Mail.

Included on a list of repairs needed is £60,000 of work on foundations said to pose a ‘significant’ safety risk. And nearly £3 million is needed to be spent on windows. Other high-value repairs needed include drainage works worth £2.3 million and the replacement of doors totalling £1.6 million.

Closed pharmacies

Figures from NHS Fife have shown that the number of unscheduled pharmacy closures in the region doubled last year compared to 2021.

Following a freedom of information request, NHS Fife revealed there were 316 unscheduled closures last year, compared to just 157 of the previous year, the Dunfermline Press reports.


Cyber-flashing – where someone is set an unsolicited sexual image via Airdrop or Bluetooth – is set to become a criminal offence amid the Online Safety Bill

Figures obtained by the Press Association from British Transport Police (BTP) through a Freedom of Information (FoI) request show that cyber-flashing incidents more than doubled year-on-year in 2016, 2017 and 2018. In 2019, there were 66 reports of cyber flashing – almost double the 34 reports in 2018, and a large jump since 2016, when three incidents were reported.

When the Mirror approached BTP on 2021’s statistics, a decrease was reported with 18 confirmed incidents.

Child criminals

Soaring numbers of crimes are being committed by children under 10. Five-year-olds have been investigated for stalking, four-year-olds for theft and children younger than 10 have been accused of child porn offences, according to the Metro.

The data, obtained via Freedom of Information (FOI) requests from 25 police forces, shows 4,729 crimes being committed in 2021 – up from 3,815 in 2020 and 4,447 in 2019.

NHS staff assaults

NHS staff have been sexually assaulted, slapped and spat at while on duty caring for patients in Southampton. Data obtained by the Echo under the Freedom of Information Act has revealed that 290 members of staff were assaulted by a patient between January and November 2022.

One emergency department worker, who did not want to be identified, said that being spat at and slapped was “regular” in her line of work. Another woman, who cannot be identified for legal reasons, said she has been physically assaulted and sexually assaulted by patients on two separate occasions.

Allergy warnings

Natasha’s Law came into force in October 2021 to help protect allergen sufferers when purchasing fresh food that is prepared, prepacked and sold directly to customers from one premises. This impacts convenience stores selling items such as packaged sandwiches, muffins, pastries or salads. It requires businesses to list the full name of the product and all of its ingredients on the packaging. The packaging must also state in bold if it contains any of a list of allergens.

Analysis of Freedom of Information data by betterRetailing revealed that trading standards investigations found 1,367 businesses selling non-compliant Natasha’s Law products between October 2021 and October 2022. Fifty (4%) of these businesses were independent retailers.

Of these shops, unaffiliated stores accounted for 15 breaches, followed by Premier (three stores), Costcutter (three), Day Today (three), USave (three), Keystore (two), Nisa (one), Spar, (one) and Lifestyle Express (one). Eighteen stores could not be identified.

Romance scams

More than 1,100 people fell victim to romance scams in the West Midlands between 2019 and the end of 2022, with warnings for people to be careful about what they reveal about themselves on dating websites or social media.

Data shows that romance fraud is on the rise, with the number of cases reported to West Midlands Police rising from 174 in 2019 to 328 in 2022. Birmingham Live reports. The amount lost to the fraud, meanwhile, has gone from £1.2 million in 2019 to £2.8 million last year.

It came to a total of £9.1 million in that time. The figures were revealed through a freedom of information request to Action Fraud, covering romance fraud cases reported to local police forces.


The highest speed recorded by a speed camera on a road in Bradford district in 2022 was 112 mph. This was recorded on B6145 Thornton Road, Bradford, and the vehicle was a Volkswagen Golf.

Thornton Road has a 30 mph speed limit, meaning this driver was clocked at more than three times the maximum legal speed. The information was obtained through a Freedom of Information request by the Telegraph & Argus.

Blue light bus lane fines

Emergency services have been issued 534 bus lane fines for offences in the city centre by Glasgow City Council. This comes after a Freedom of Information request was submitted to the local authority regarding the penalties issued to the fire, ambulance and police services over the past five years.

Police Scotland received the most, being handed 475 since 2018, the Scottish Ambulance Service were given 46 whilst the fire service received just 13, Glasgow Live reports.

When a fire service vehicle is caught in the bus lane the driver is expected to pay the fine (except if it was on an emergency call), while any penalties handed to police are investigated internally to see why the vehicle was in the bus lane before a report is sent to the council.

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