Freedom of Information in the news – week ending 24/2/2023 – #FOIFriday

With Freedom of Information, it can sometimes be worth following up your FOI story with another FOI.

Earlier this year, the Mirror asked how much Liz Truss’ distinctive higgledy-piggledy lectern had cost (particularly as she hadn’t got a lot of use out of it). At the time, a Government spokesperson said: “Previous lecterns continue to be used and repurposed, including in other Government buildings.”

But a follow-up suggests no one’s keen to take it on. In response to a freedom of information request, the Cabinet Office said the practice has been that lecterns used by PMs are “repurposed including in other Government buildings” when they leave office, but it said the one made for Ms Truss remained “on site” in No10.

This week’s FOI ideas also show that when an issue is a problem for one public body (sexual misconduct in the police), it can be worth looking into whether other public bodies are facing the same issues.

University sexual misconduct

Oxford staff with upheld complaints of sexual misconduct against them have been allowed to remain at the university.

According to a Freedom of Information request made by The Oxford Student regarding sexual misconduct at the University of Oxford over the past five years, from 2017/18 to 2021/22, there were a total of 12 sexual misconduct complaints against staff members.

Of these, five student complaints of staff sexual misconduct have been upheld, but only one staff member was suspended and subsequently dismissed.

Sexual harassment in the fire service

Sexual harassment cases have been discovered at almost half of fire services which responded to a freedom of information request by ITV News.

All but one of the 22 services which provided data said they had dealt with gross misconduct cases over the past year. Of these, ten had dealt with allegations of sexual harassment.

Stab wounds

Paramedics were called to treat almost 600 stabbing victims in Birmingham in a single year, alarming new figures from BirminghamLive reveal. City areas were rocked by 588 reported knife attacks in 2022, according to the latest stats.

In one Birmingham postcode, West Midlands Ambulance Service was called out to treat an average of three victims a month. The B23 area; covering Erdington, alongside parts of Stockland Green and Kingstanding, was rocked by 37 reported knife attacks – making it the ‘worst’ area for stabbings in the city.

The information contains both intended and accidental stabbings, West Midlands Ambulance Service said when returning the Freedom of Information request.

Council tax bailiffs

A community group has slammed Haringey Council for its “cruel and unnecessary” use of bailiffs. The Association for Community Organisations for Reform Now (ACORN) in Haringey said that the council should ban the use of council tax bailiffs amid the cost-of-living crisis, Ham and High reports.

The group claimed a Freedom of Information request has revealed that the council passed on more than 8,000 council tax debts to bailiffs in the financial year 2021-2022.

Social care debts

More than 60,000 adults with disabilities and long-term illnesses in England were chased for debts by councils last year after failing to pay for their social care support at home.

Data from 79 of 152 local authorities in England – obtained by the BBC through Freedom of Information requests – shows that councils began more than 60,000 debt collection procedures against social care claimants living in the community in 2021-22.

School vandalism repairs

New figures reveal councils in Dundee, Angus, Perth and Kinross and Fife took a seven-figure hit in total to repair vandalism at public buildings. The data was provided in response to Freedom of Information (FOI) requests made by the Scottish Conservatives.

Dundee City Council has claimed £870,062.45 against insurance since 2017, The Courier reports.

Costs included:

  • £4,999.98 on repairing fire exit doors in Longhaugh Campus games hall in October 2020.
  • £3,764.06 on vandalised toilet cubicles and sinks in boys’ toilets at Mill of Mains Primary in May 2021.
  • £9,608.49 spent replacing a vandalised stairwell in Harris Academy in August 2021.
  • £315.31 to repair four broken windows at Clepington Primary in April 2022.
  • £3,773.21 on re-securing sink taps and replacing three senior boys’ toilet cubicles at St John’s High in August 2022.

Missed children

Almost a quarter of teachers’ appeals for help to prevent children regularly missing school are going ignored, i can reveal, as the Government faces calls to address the “national crisis” of persistent absence.

Data revealed through Freedom of Information requests shows that 23.9 per cent of Early Help referrals made between 2018 and 2022 were returned to schools without action.

The Early Help scheme was designed to ensure families get support from councils when problems first emerge that result in poor school attendance. It has seen appeals for support surge 156 per cent over the past four years.

Stealing from your employer

Hard-up staff are increasingly stealing from their employers to make ends meet, according to new data released by insurer, Zurich.

From a Freedom of Information request to the 43 police forces in England and Wales, the firm found nearly 6,000 staff were caught stealing from their employer last year, up by a fifth from the 5,000 incidents recorded during 2021, HR Magazine reports.

This level of crime means 500 employees are being caught stealing every month, although because the data only shows recorded crime, the actual level of undetected thieving is likely to be far higher.

Supermarket thefts

Thefts from supermarkets have increased in Carmarthenshire over the last three years.

The South Wales Guardian submitted a freedom of information request to the force asking for the details of how many thefts from supermarkets had been reported each year in 2020, 2021, and 2022, and how many charges or summons had been brought against them. The data reflects supermarkets Asda, Lidl, Morrisons, Tesco and Co Op.

In 2020, 360 thefts were reported. This decreased slightly in 2021, with 336 being reported, but 2022, saw a rise on 2020 figures as 441 thefts were reported in the county, bringing the total to 1,137 over the three-year period. Over the three-year period, 176 people were either charged or summonsed in relation to the offences, coming in at around 15 per cent of the crimes committed.

Sewage leaks

Croydon Health Services NHS Trust has reported 45 cases of sewage spewing into its hospital during last year alone. The trust is responsible for the Croydon University Hospital and Purley Memorial Hospital, the Sutton and Croydon Guardian reports.

These figures come from a Freedom of Information request by the Liberal Democrats, and which have uncovered the reported leaks between January and December 2022.

NHS trusts recorded a total of 456 leaks between January and December 2022 across England. Only 55 NHS hospital trusts responded to Freedom of Information requests about sewage leaks, meaning just over a third responded.

Taxi shortages

Kent is being confronted with a huge taxi driver shortage – with some people facing six-hour waits and having to miss vital hospital appointments. Documents obtained through Freedom of Information requests show there are now 500 fewer cabbies across the county than in 2020, KentOnline reports.


A Freedom of Information answer provided to the Liberal Democrats confirms that the council issued only 64 littering fines in 2022, down from 194 in 2020, when covid restrictions were still in place.

Oldham Council also confirmed that fewer fly-tipping fines were meted out – 33 in 2022, down from 50 in 2020, the Oldham Evening Chronicle reports.

Library losses

Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf and a string of sex manuals are among 3,000 items missing from the National Library of Scotland, the Scottish Sun can reveal. The Nazi Party leader’s autobiographical manifesto may have been swiped, lost or misplaced, say bosses.

Library chiefs say the same applies to the other untraceable items such as Alex Comfort’s The Joy of Sex — A Gourmet Guide to Lovemaking. Also gone is Scotch Passion: An Anthology of Scottish Erotic Poetry and a selection of Victorian erotic photography by English artist Graham Ovenden.

A compilation by the German sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld called Sexual Anomalies and Perversions, has also ­vanished, a freedom of information request reveals.

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