You are currently viewing Freedom of Information in the news – week ending 5/1/2024 – #FOIFriday

Freedom of Information in the news – week ending 5/1/2024 – #FOIFriday

We’re back.

Mostly, after a very long summer break. Please ignore the general state of the website, I moved hosting in November and I’m still in the half unpacked, lots of stuff still in boxes stage.

But Christmas and New Year is a often a great period for FOI requests, as there tends to not be a lot of news or journalists on the ground, so exclusive FOI stories you can write before you head off for the festive break, really help.

In the spirit of being festive, it might help if your FOIs are drinking related…

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Understaffed ambulances

Hundreds of thousands of 999 calls are not being attended by a fully-trained paramedic due to staff shortages, their union has warned.

Data revealed under Freedom of Information laws show seven out of 10 ambulance trusts in England showed 732,369 health emergency callouts were not attended by a fully qualified paramedic last year.

Attacks on council staff

FOIs asking about attacks on police, NHS or fire staff are fairly common, but they’re not the only public sector workers with public-facing jobs who face the bad behaviour of the public.

Staff at Hammersmith and Fulham Council have been robbed, kicked and punched in the head while others have been targeted with raw eggs and water balloons while simply doing their jobs, Hammersmith Today has revealed.

Between January 2018 and October 2023, Hammersmith and Fulham Council workers were subject to more than 100 instances of violent physical and verbal abuse, a Freedom of Information (FOI) has found.

Attacks on train staff

Not all public transport companies are in public ownership and subject to FOI, but if yours is one, there may be some questions you want to ask them.

The number of physical and verbal attacks on public transport staff in Northern Ireland has hit over 1,000 since 2018, new figures reveal.

Translink recorded 1,017 incidents between 2018 and 2023 to date, figures obtained by Belfast Live through a Freedom of Information request show.

There were a total of 840 physical and verbal attacks on staff across Metro, Ulsterbus, Glider and NI Railways between 2018 and 2022 with 177 recorded so far this year.

Taxi instead of trains

Rail bosses have spent more than £300,000 on taxis after trains were cancelled since ScotRail was taken into public ownership less than two years ago.

Figures obtained using freedom of information legislation by the Scottish Liberal Democrats found that between April 2022, when ScotRail was taken into public ownership, and the end of September 2023, the total bill for replacement taxis was £331,061.03.

In June this year alone, the bill for taxis amounted to £40,547.73.

The single most expensive journey was a fare of £798.30 from Wick to Inverness, calling at all the usual rail stops in between, for an eight-seater taxi, with ScotRail insisting it has a “duty to provide alternative transport”.

Don’t take your knife to court

Maybe don’t take your golf umbrella either.

A Freedom of Information request revealed 3,869 prohibited items were taken by security officers at the entrance to Northampton’s Combined Crown Court and County Court.

The majority of these were liquids or glass bottles, but the figures included one knife which had a blade exceeding 3in and 87 knives with a blade length of under 3in.

Security officers also seized three firearms which were classed as ‘other’ rather than genuine or replica, although data did not reveal what they were, as well as one item of drugs and 165 classic large umbrellas.

Addicted babies

Shocking figures have revealed the number of babies born addicted to drugs in Forth Valley doubled in 2023. The number of children born with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS) in 2023 was recorded at 11, compared to five in the previous year’s data.

The data has been revealed as part of a freedom of information request and shows that a total of 195 children were diagnosed with NAS upon birth across Scotland last year.

Agency staff

Winter is also when the NHS comes under increasing pressure, increasingly so in recent years. And wards and emergency rooms need to be staffed…

Statistics obtained by Scottish Tories through freedom of information requests show the number of bank and agency shifts across Scottish health boards has doubled since 2018-19.

In 2018-19, 104,794 agency and 841,629 bank shifts were advertised across the NHS. But in the most recent year, the figures soared to 464,495 and 1,520,227 respectively – 1,984,722 in total.

Stressed out staff

The reason why you might need temporary staff might be because your regular staff are increasingly likely to be off with stress.

Up to a third of all staff sickness in NHS Wales is due to stress, depression or anxiety, figures show. At its peak, in the aftermath of Covid, there were 14,500 staff absences due to one of these mental health conditions.

There were also 10,000 stress-related absences at five health boards and the Welsh ambulance service in the first nine months of 2023. Before the pandemic, about a quarter of absences were due to one of these mental health conditions.

The cost of agency staff

And relying on agency and banks staff tends to cost more, and FOI reveals how much more.

Buckinghamshire Healthcare NHS Trust shelled out millions of pounds on the wages of staff covering shifts in 2023.

The most expensive bills were £4,800 and £4,740 for two consultant shifts at Stoke Mandeville Hospital in Aylesbury during the junior doctor strikes in August. The doctors earned £200 and £198 an hour for their shifts, which lasted 24 hours, according to figures from the Trust released under the Freedom of Information Act.

Pothole problems

Wind, rain, snow, ice – the weather recently, and pretty much perfect conditions for potholes on the road.

Off the back of a freedom of information request, the Mirror can reveal that council payouts for damage and injury caused by potholes since 2010 is well over £32million – just for council’s biggest payouts alone.

Reasons for these payouts include personal injury such as damaging or losing a tooth, broken bones, fractures, cuts and more, and damage to vehicles. The single most expensive payout was made by Kent County Council, due to a pothole related incident in Maidstone in 2014 that saw the claimant receive £4.25million. This was the very highest payout by quite some margin.

Worst streets to park

Parking fines are always a classic FOI.

The streets in Cardiff where the highest number of parking fines have been revealed thanks to new data. A freedom of information request response shows City Road and St Mary Street saw the highest number of fines issued in the last year and tells us how much money the council has recouped from fines over the last five years.

For City Road alone the council has recouped £102,565 in the last year.

Sarah’s Law

Following up the use and effectiveness of new laws is a good use of FOI .

Almost 700 requests were made in five years to Humberside Police by concerned members of the public under the child sex offender disclosure scheme. A Freedom of Information (FOI) request by the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) has revealed that there were 696 information applications made by the public under the scheme, between April 2018 and August 2023. 

The scheme allows a concerned parent, guardian or carer of a child to check if an individual is a registered sex offender. The disclosure scheme is also known as Sarah’s Law, and has been run nationwide since 2011.

No crackdown

Council made a big announcement of a scheme to tackle a local problem? Use FOI to check what actually happened with it.

In March last year, the previous Herefordshire Council administration committed to taking on an outside organisation to enforce laws against dog fouling and littering in the county for a trial period of 12 months, with an option to extend for up to five years.

An unnamed resident asked the council under a freedom of information request whether the scheme “actually occurred”, as “I can find no mention of this matter after around April 2023”. The council’s information officer replied: “Herefordshire Council can confirm that the trial never went ahead.”

Council bosses have explained a lack of fines for engine idling in Perth and Kinross – nine months after the rules came into force. The policy, introduced by the council in March, gives traffic wardens the power to fine drivers who sit with their car engines running while parked.

However, as of mid-December, no fines had been issued, according to a Freedom of Information request by The Courier.

The value of art

How much did the statues, murals and other pieces of public art cost?

The Caerphilly Observer submitted a Freedom of Information (FOI) request to Caerphilly County Borough Council and can reveal the Twisted Chimney is the most expensive of all 32 pieces of public art installed across Caerphilly County Borough since 2008.

Raise some festive cheer

In the spirit of the season, you might be considering raising a toast. But were you saying cheers with some House of Lords commemorative bubbly or a Cambridge University recommended wine?

Over the course of last year, 1,589 bottles of champagne were purchased in the House of Lords, at a total cost of £88,987.90, according to figures released under Freedom of Information. Sales rose in 2023 compared to the previous year, when 1,580 bottles of Champagne were sold at a cost of £85,462.51.

However, the House of Lords gift shop and events hosted by external parties are responsible for the majority of Champagne sales, according to a spokesperson, who stressed that “it is not paid for by the taxpayer”.

Cambridge colleges are renowned for their wine cellars with Trinity College having a collection said to be worth more than £1.6 million, and King’s College boasting a collection of more than 50,000 bottles. Between 2010 and 2013, a total of 30 Cambridge colleges spent £7.9 million on wine, according to a Freedom of Information request.

Colleges’ cellar stocks are used for events put on for external groups, for purchase by past and present members of the college or for use at internal dinners to mark events such as graduation or admission as a fellow. Some of the wine is also sold on.

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