This bank holiday weekend would be a bad time to submit FOI requests (they’re non-working days so don’t count in the 20 working day time calculation.
However, if you do need some Freedom of Information inspiration for when everyone’s back in work – there’s the rising scale of violence being faced by those in the public sector who deal with the public, fire safety concerns, payments to police informants, and fly tipping hotspots.
Violence at GPs
An investigation by the British Medical Journal found the number of violent incidents at GP surgeries and health centres has doubled in less than five years, and assaults resulting in injuries almost doubled too. Police forces recorded 1,068 violent incidents between 2021 and 2022, up from 586 between 2017 and 2018, the BBC reports.
Violence in the library
Similar figures asking police for violent incidents in libraries – with nearly 6,000 serious anti-social behaviour incidents in five years, according to the Mirror.
Isobel Hunter, of national charity Libraries Connected, blamed the trend on “people not being able to access medical and support services” and “the cost of living crisis”. She called on councils “to ensure libraries remain safe”.
Sexual offences in schools
There were 381 sexual offences were reported in schools in South Yorkshire between January 2018 and November 2021, according to a Freedom of Information request to South Yorkshire Police, Now Then Magazine reports – 108 of these took place in Sheffield, 84 in Barnsley, 101 in Doncaster and 91 in Rotherham.
Among these, 12 boys and 23 girls reported rape at school over the four-year period.
Only four of the 381 reports resulted in a charge or a summons.
With FOI knowing the technical terms used by public bodies can help uncover important stories – such as how many residential buildings would need to be fully evacuated if there was a fire, and what support would be available to those with disabilities to help them get to safety. This is also an example of where information not held under FOI may raise concerns about the need for better information gathering or sharing (there’s a few potential issues here).
Since the Grenfell Tower fire, which killed 72 people in June 2017, there has, rightly, been much greater focus on fire safety for those living in multi-storey buildings. The London Fire Brigade (LFB) holds no details on how to evacuate disabled residents from more than 1,000 blocks in the capital that have serious fire safety defects, according to details uncovered by a Freedom of Information request by Inside Housing.
A response to a Freedom of Information request revealed there are 1,099 blocks in London operating a ‘simultaneous evacuation’ policy, meaning they must be fully evacuated in a fire. According to Inside Housing, a building is switched from ‘stay put’ to ‘simultaneous evacuation’ if serious fire safety defects are discovered. This is often the presence of combustible cladding materials, but can also relate to other fire safety issues.
However, LFB said it did not record information on the number of residents with disabilities in these buildings, and the number of ‘personal emergency evacuation plans’ (PEEPs) prepared to support their escape. This may be because PEEPs would be the responsibility of building managers, who have to follow the existing fire safety framework that requires all residents to be able to leave the building in an emergency – draft guidance from the National Fire Chiefs Council recommends residents be offered PEEPs.
The data also revealed a huge decrease in the number of buildings reliant on a ‘waking watch’ patrol – a widely criticised and expensive system which sees 24/7 patrols deployed to raise the alarm if a fire breaks out.
The story links through to the FOI response, which is really helpful for seeing the questions asked to get a better idea of phrasing in successful requests.
Another story where a lack of information held is the story – more than half of the UK’s universities do not know how many of their students take their own lives, NationalWorld has revealed.
The report says that while some simply keep no records, many pointed out that coroners are under no obligation to tell them if one of their students dies by suicide. Universities UK said it was working on new guidance for universities on what to do after a student takes their own life, and would be interested in discussing whether coroners could notify a university as standard if one of their students died by suicide.
The Ministry of Justice said coroners were “already obliged to issue a Prevention of Future Deaths report if they identify any circumstances that need addressing”.
Payments to informants
West Midlands Police has paid out £1.24m on informants since 2015-16, making it one of the biggest spenders of any force in the country, according to the Express and Star. The biggest spend took place over the last 12 months, where informants were paid £272,931 by the force – an increase of more than a third on the previous year.
The government has promised to scrap the Vagrancy Act, which could see people prosecuted for begging, but as the Bristol Cable investigation finds, there are other ways in which rough sleepers can be criminalised, such as a community protection notices (CPNs) that ban people from begging in certain areas.
Data released to the Bristol Cable under the Freedom of Information Act (FOI) reveals that the use of CPNs by Bristol’s street intervention service – a team the council says predominantly deals with antisocial behaviour caused by rough sleepers and homeless people – has increased over the past four years. The figures show that the service issued one CPN in 2018, eight in 2019, eight more in 2020, and 10 in 2021.
Unsafe staffing levels
Every single A&E department in Wales is failing to meet ‘safe’ consultant staffing levels, according to Freedom of Information requests made to Wales’ health boards by the Welsh Conservatives, and reported by WalesOnline.
The Royal College of Emergency Medicine (RCEM) sets a ‘baseline’ for the number of WTE (working-time equivalent) consultants which should be employed in the department to guarantee safe cover. The most understaffed A&E units were in the Hywel Dda University Health Board area, which serves Pembrokeshire, Ceredigion and Carmarthenshire, with its three major hospitals recording an average staffing level of 36% of the recommended baseline. Aberystwyth’s Bronglais Hospital only had one consultant when they should have eight.
Fly tipping hotspots
Glebe Street in Leigh has been named the number one fly tipping hotspot in Wigan for four years running, according to the Manchester Evening News. With a total of 97 reports between 2018 and 2022, the street has become notorious for this type of behaviour in the borough.
A Freedom of Information request put to all three emergency services found Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) and the Scottish Ambulance Service (SAS) have received 657 calls in West Dunbartonshire since 2012 that were considered malicious, the Clydebank Post reports. Police Scotland told the Post they were unable to provide figures on hoax calls to the police over the period because of the costs involved.
Hoax calls aren’t the same as false alarms – a call had been placed with good intent, or a callout due to apparatus such as a fire alarm being triggered for another reason. Both ambulance and fires services warned that malicious calls risk taking resources away from genuine emergencies.
Dozens of reckless of drivers have been caught reaching ridiculous speeds on roads in the West Midlands over the last few years – three dangerous motorists were prosecuted after being clocked doing 135mph on West Midlands roads.
Those drivers were caught on the A452 Collector Road, Castle Bromwich, in 2019 in a BMW, the M6 southbound in 2018 a Mercedes C250, and M6 near Junction 4 at Corley in 2017 in a Volkswagen Golf. Details of the shocking driving cases were released to Birmingham Live by West Midlands Police following a freedom of information request.
Making off without paying
From the beginning of 2017 to mid-May this year, 925 such offences, which is when someone leaves a businesses without paying, were reported in Flintshire and 697 occurred in Wrexham, according to The Leader.
Of the total 1,622 offences, the majority (1,175) took place at petrol stations. Over the five year period in question in Flintshire, there were 69 offences relating to streets or roads, 33 relating to taxis, 28 to restaurants, six to pubs, four to fast food businesses, and one to a golf course – among others including shops and public buildings, hotels and pet shops.
During that same time period in Wrexham, there were 82 offences relating to streets or roads, 45 to taxis, 37 to restaurants, seven to pubs, five to fast food businesses, five to supermarkets and two to hairdressers – among others, such as retail parks, repair garages and a launderette.