Freedom of Information in the news – week ending 2/6/2023 – #FOIFriday

Does it matter if the response to your freedom of information request might be confusing?

Last week we covered the problem of unhelpful responses being sent out that then turn out to be wrong or misleading when you try to follow them up. But what about when public bodies refuse a request because they say the information might be misleading if it’s shared publicly?

Bristol Council refused a request for the number of Clean Air Zone fines in the first four months of the scheme, saying making these figures available to the public could “result in confusion”.

The plan is to release the information after a year (a Section 22 refusal). While refusing to speed up publication because it’ll put extra pressure on staff can be legitimate, the requested information being potentially misleading or confusing is unlikely to be (need tips of appealing your Section 22 refusal). The ICO is generally going to expect the public authority to explain the information or put it in context instead (or in this case, the number of fines is the number of fines, it doesn’t have to say anything about the success/failure of the scheme).

So onto this week’s FOI stories:

Stolen guns

Two machine guns and nearly 2,000 rounds of ammunition have been lost by the Ministry of Defence in the last two years, the Mirror reveals. The Government department admitted lethal weapons and bullets vanished in 2021 and 2022.

Following freedom of information requests, the MoD also laid bare the number of rounds lost over the past two years. They included 1,051, 5.56mm bullets fired by the Army’s regular-issue SA80 rifles; 724, 7.62mm bullets loaded into machine guns and “sharpshooter” rifles; and 157, 9mm bullets for pistols.

Going private

The number of Scottish patients giving up on long NHS waiting lists and paying for private treatment instead is rising dramatically, figures have shown. Statistics from four of the nation’s 14 health boards show that there has been a 46 per cent rise in people being taken off NHS waiting lists after going private.

The figures, obtained by Scottish Labour through Freedom of Information requests, relate to NHS Ayrshire & Arran, NHS Borders, NHS Grampian and NHS Highland, i reports.

In 2019-20, before the Covid pandemic took hold, a total of 1,821 patients were removed from waiting lists at the four boards after deciding to have their treatment privately instead. In 2022-23 the figure stood at 2,669, an increase of 46.5 per cent.

Taxis for schoolchildren

Hard-up town halls in Greater Manchester are spending more than half a million pounds every week on taxis to take children to and from school amid fears transport services for pupils are at “breaking point”, the Northern Agenda reports.

The total weekly bill was £582,834 for 4,611 children, with 721 pupils getting taxis to school outside their local authority area. The biggest spending Greater Manchester authority was Stockport at £138,515, though the highest number of pupils was 1,161 in Salford.

The sky-high costs are in part caused by an increase in the number of children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) who need to go to a specialist school, often outside the local council’s boundaries. Rising fuel prices, wages and inflation are also adding to the cost.

Calls for help

The Metropolitan Police are planning to respond to fewer emergency calls related to mental health incidents from September. But how many calls do they and other forces respond to?

Some 21 forces out of 48 in England, Scotland and Wales responded to a BBC freedom of information request – and every force reported a rise since 2017. In Merseyside, mental health-related incidents increased from 7,629 in 2017 to 28,039 last year – a 313% rise.

Police in North Wales saw the largest proportional increase, responding to more than five times as many incidents in 2022 (3,910) as in 2017 (781). Gloucestershire Police saw the lowest rise, an increase of 16% over the same five-year period – from 6,737 incidents to 7,369.

How fast?

Tens of thousands of drivers get into trouble for speeding across the West Midlands every year. But at what speed are those breaching the limit most likely to be caught out? Is it those on slower roads going only slightly over 30mph or is it the motorists tearing along at faster speeds on main roads and motorways?

When it comes to speed cameras or mobile vans, which is when cops park up in certain hotspot locations, it is drivers doing between 40 and 49mph who are caught speeding most often, BirminghamLive reports. Since the start of 2022, a total of 31,931 were caught speeding in this bracket, data passed to us under the Freedom of Information Act showed.

Allotment demand

On average, residents are waiting approximately 35 months before a plot becomes available, according to new analysis of Freedom of Information requests conducted by Oak Tree Mobility.

The study of nine councils in the West Midlands shows that there are currently more than 5,900 council-run plots across 178 sites in the region, but demand for allotments has soared over the past few years.

More than 3,000 West Midlands residents are facing lengthy waiting times for council-managed allotments, with some waiting over six years for a plot, the Express and Star reports.

Bus lane fines

An alternative to how many traffic penalties were handed out – which groups of people are getting the fines?

A Freedom of Information request has revealed that since full enforcement commenced on April 1, 2023, only 34 per cent of the penalties issued by Tunbridge Wells Borough Council (TWBC) were to vehicles registered in the Borough, according to Times of Tunbridge Wells.

This means a majority of the those fined for using the bus gate in front of the War Memorial are motorists who likely live outside the Borough, possibly in neighbouring districts or counties.

Railway crime

Freedom of information data obtained by the Leader from British Transport Police shows the total number of offences reported as having happened on trains and at railway stations since the beginning of 2021 to date in both counties.

The figures confirm a total of 74 offences were committed in Wrexham over that time period, and 102 in Flintshire – with the most common crime in both areas being railway trespass (22 in Wrexham and 26 in Flintshire), followed by assault and damage.

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