You are currently viewing Freedom of Information in the news – week ending 3/2/2023 – #FOIFriday

Freedom of Information in the news – week ending 3/2/2023 – #FOIFriday

Some public bodies may need to give their FOI autoresponder an update (some with non-compliant nonsense about round robins and mandatory online forms definitely do).

Ten councils responded to requests sent in by a Telegraph reporter last week, claiming there may be delays caused by “disruption to normal services” because of the pandemic. The local authorities said references to Covid were included in error.

In a comment to the Telegraph, the Information Commissioner’s Office said that while there were delays during the pandemic, “as time has passed and organisations should be working business as usual, they should correspond with individuals within the timeframes within the legislation we oversee”.

So if your response isn’t back within 20 working days (give or take a proper public interest test), it may be time to make a complaint about the lack of timeliness rather than waiting for the ‘do you still want this’ email six months later.

Need some ideas of what to ask…

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Private ambulances

East Midlands Ambulance Service paid out more than the yearly salary of many paramedics on external ambulances every day for three years. Shocking figures obtained through a Freedom of Information request show that EMAS, which provides 999 services in Swadlincote and Derbyshire, spent £38,644,000 on private and voluntary ambulances to plug gaps over the past three years.

This works out at an average of £35,211.32 a day, StaffordshireLive reports. Most newly qualified paramedic are in the Band 5 of the NHS pay scale. That means a starting salary of £27,055, rising to £32,934 after four years.

The largest chunk of the money on external ambulances was spent last year and amounted to £13.594 million spent on external ambulances. EMAS spent from £13.139m on private ambulances in 2021 and £11.991 million in 2020. This money was spent across the entire service area.

Police return after misconduct

Police officers with a misconduct record are being asked to return to the Metropolitan Police in efforts to fill the gaps in the ranks of Britain’s largest force, according to the Justice Gap. A total of 253 officers who had action taken against them after misconduct proceedings have been asked to re-join, along with a further 99 officers who retired mid-investigation.

The sanctions against the 253 officers remain unknown and the force has failed to deny whether any of the cases involved gross misconduct. A Freedom of Information request has established that six officers have returned to the Met following the job offer.

Prisoners in police cells

Got a national story that is likely to have an impact locally? Send an FOI to find out what that impact might be.

In November 2022, The Guardian reported the Ministry of Justice had requested the “urgent use” of 400 police cells across the country for the first time in 14 years, due to the lack of space in men’s prisons.

When the story broke, The Star submitted a Freedom of Information request (FOI) to South Yorkshire Police to establish how many cells were being offered by the force, and, if any, where these police cells were. The force responded to the request on February 1, 2023.

The response revealed South Yorkshire Police had five police cells to offer the government for use by male prison detainees. The force also confirmed the Barnsley Custody Suite, on Churchfield in the town centre, is presently the “dedicated custody suite” for any prison detainees.

Social housing complaints

Statistics revealed through Freedom of Information requests found there were at least 11,772 instances of damp and mould reported in social housing in Scotland in 2021-22, according to the Herald.

But the complete figure is likely to be even higher, with some local authorities, including Glasgow, not responding to the request or having outsourced managing social housing. The number of complaints has increased by 18% since 2019-20, before the pandemic hit.

No smoke alarm

When policy is introduced, especially one with a deadline for compliance, it’s worth sending an FOI to find out how things went.

More than one in ten council houses in Edinburgh is not fitted with legally required interlinked smoke alarms a year after the deadline for them being installed. Only a quarter of councils in Scotland comply fully with the legislation by having all their homes equipped with the alarms; and only two authorities met the set date of February 1, 2022, Edinburgh Evening News reports.

The figures were revealed by Lothian MSP and Scottish Conservative housing spokesman Miles Briggs after all 32 Scottish councils were asked for data under Freedom of Information. Eight councils including Midlothian and West Lothian, reported 100 per cent of their homes were fitted with the alarms. Inverclyde and East Ayrshire were the only ones who were fully compliant by the deadline.

Student housing complaints

Close to 40% of maintenance requests for on-campus accommodation at Warwick University are being fulfilled late, according to data obtained by The Boar under the Freedom of Information Act 2003 (FOIA).

Approximately 62% of maintenance requests received by the Estates team over the past five years were fulfilled within the timescale provided by the ‘Service Level Agreement’, which states that broken fridges should be repaired within 24 hours, toilets within 36 hours, and broken radiators within seven working days.

This comes despite an overall fall in maintenance requests over the past five years, which may be due in part to the Covid pandemic

Student housing shortage

The Scottish Liberal Democrats have challenged the Scottish Government to secure more accommodation for the year ahead as the party revealed new figures showing that more than 10,000 students were unable to secure university accommodation in each of the last two years.

Freedom of information requests received by 13 universities revealed that in the academic year beginning in 2020, 43,029 applied for accommodation, with 32,590 receiving places. In the following year, 46,351 applied for accommodation with 36,208 getting places. There were also 1,590 in temporary university accommodation, Scottish Housing News reports.

Promo video

Don’t forget the classic FOI question – how much did that cost?

Cheshire Constabulary has spent almost £20,000 on a promotional video for the force. The force created the promotional video as part of the Government’s Uplift Programme, which sought to recruit 20,000 new officers across the country. As part of this initiative, Cheshire Police needed to recruit an additional 600 officers in 2020 to 2022.

According to data revealed online, the force did not hit this target. In years gone by, the force has relied on face-to-face recruitment to bring in fresh faces to the constabulary, but lockdowns made this impossible.

Cheshire Police decided to commission a recruitment/promotional video, according to the Warrington Guardian. The video was created, and the police forked out £18,425 for the service – this figure was revealed by a Freedom of Information request made to Cheshire Constabulary.

Noisy neighbours

Shouting and loud music are plaguing residents on a city’s noisiest streets, a Freedom of Information request has found.

A Freedom of Information request by the Local Democracy Reporting Service showed the ten noisiest roads in Southampton had a combined total of 756 noise complaints in 2022. Warburton Road in Southampton topped the list with with 135 complaints from residents about noise in 2022, ahead of International Way and Wadhurst Gardens in Weston which had 102 and 114 complaints respectively.

Train delay compensation

Only works for publicly owned transport companies but worth finding out how much they’re having pay out in Delay Repay if you have one.

Northern Trains paid nearly £700,000 in compensation for late trains in less than eight months of 2022 – more than the previous two years combined, according to Mancunian Matters.

Figures obtained from a Freedom of Information request showed the operator paid £694,138 from April 1 to November 12 – including £137,318 for a single four-week period. That sum, covering less than eight months, is more than the combined paid out for the full previous two years – £606,523 in 2021/22 and £83,116 in 2020/21.

Claim to the throne

A growing number of potentially dangerous individuals have come to the attention of a police team dealing with threats to royals and other high-profile figures, the Metro reports.

Stalkers and people who believe they have a claim to the throne after the death of Queen Elizabeth II are said to be among those on the radar of the Royalty and Specialist Protection (RaSP) team. The Metropolitan Police command last year referred 170 individual cases to the multi-agency Fixated Threat Assessment Centre (FTAC), which monitors risks to royals, politicians and other prominent figures.

Of these, 10 were judged to pose the highest threat, while 117 were ‘medium’ and 43 ‘low’, according to data released under the Freedom of Information Act.

Switched off

Sad news for B and C-listers, Kettering is ditching the celebrity Christmas lights switch-on.

In recent years the now-defunct Kettering Borough Council, and its replacement North Northamptonshire Council (NNC), have spent thousands of pounds bringing TV stars to the town to kick off festive celebrations. But Kettering Town Council (KTC), which has agreed to take on the event from NNC from 2023, has decided not to fork out for celebrities but to use local people and acts to front it, the Northamptonshire Telegraph reports.

Among previous celeb guests were:

  • Former EastEnders star Cheryl Fergison, paid £1,245 after she replaced Lindsay Lohan, who sent a video apology to the town having previously pledged to turn them on, in 2016.
  • Hometown hero comedian James Acaster turned on the lights in 2017 and was not paid a fee.
  • In 2018, Kettering’s snooker star Kyren Wilson flicked the switch and a donation was made to a chosen charity.
  • In 2019 actor Will Mellor, who has appeared in Hollyoaks, Casualty and Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps, was paid £2,075 to turn the town’s lights on.
  • The Covid pandemic meant there was no big public switch-on in 2020 but comedian Hugh Dennis, who was born in Kettering, kicked off the town’s celebrations in a virtual ceremony. He was paid £1,800.
  • Wollaston’s Paralympic gold medal swimmer Maisie Summers-Newton had the honour in 2021 and a donation was made to charity.
  • And finally two months ago Samia Longchambon, who plays Maria Connor in Coronation Street, was the last celebrity to be paid to attend the town’s lights switch-on. The Freedom of Information response revealed £2,500 had been budgeted for her attendance but that it was yet to be paid at the time of the response.

Expensive Christmas lights

Christmas decorations and celebrations have cost Inverclyde Council more than £350,000 over the last five years.

Data obtained by the Telegraph through Freedom of Information laws shows the cost of supplying and installing Christmas lights and trees across the district amounted to more than £250k. Buying decorations has also been an expensive business, with £131k spent on festive ornaments since 2017.

Cuts to the area’s spending on festive decorations were proposed in the local authority’s recent budget consultation, with a public consultation under way to decide where savings should be made.

Deadly animals

Possibly try not to get bitten by a Brazilian Wandering Spider this weekend (maybe check your supermarket bananas). It’s one of the venomous creatures the UK Health Security Agency doesn’t hold anti-venom for.

Data obtained by MailOnline through a Freedom of Information request found the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) has spent £186,000 securing anti-venoms effective against over 30 species of exotic snakes, spiders and scorpions since 2021. Whether kept as exotic pets, in zoos, or for medical research, UK health authorities’ have decided it pays to have a supply of antivenom on hand just in case.

Among anti-venoms held are those for King Cobras, black widow spiders and deathstalker scorpions.

Image by Jakub Zerdzicki on Pexels

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