You are currently viewing Freedom of Information in the news – week ending 19/4/2024 – #FOIFriday

Freedom of Information in the news – week ending 19/4/2024 – #FOIFriday

Could publishing more information cut Freedom of Information requests?

Auditors have suggested Torridge District Council improves the information it shares with the public in order to reduce the number of Freedom of Information (FOI) requests it receives. Between January 2022 and February 2024 the council received 1,675 such requests, roughly two every day.

Paul Middlemass from the Devon Audit Partnership said there good arrangements are in place to manage FOI requests but said the council should include more details on its website to keep the public informed and to reduce the need for such requests.

The major plus with FOI is you can ask for anything you want from a public body (though it’s much less annoying if you ask for something they are likely to have information about). As a result, publishing more information doesn’t necessarily solve everyone’s requests.

However, public bodies may benefit from analysing what they get asked about. If there are common themes or requests that could be better dealt with by updates to the website (and a swift Section 21 response), the trade-off between doing those updates versus answering regular FOI requests might be worth it.

But until all publishable information goes straight on a website, this is what people have been finding out from FOI this week…

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Teachers with a past

Freedom of Information requests by the Scots Tories reveal that the number of individuals with criminal convictions approved to take up teaching posts, under the Protecting Vulnerable Groups Scheme, rose from 215 in 2021 to 265 in 2023 – an increase of more than 23%.

These figures include serious offences such as violent crimes –­­­ the number of which has increased by 50% over the past two years – and sexual crimes, which have doubled in the last year. The increase comes against a backdrop of falling teacher numbers, with councils facing “significant” challenges due to budget cuts.

Domestic abuse

FOI is a useful way to get figures for a smaller area.

Figures from Norfolk Constabulary show that officers were called to 1,853 reports of domestic violence in Great Yarmouth in 2023 – an average of almost six incidents every day.

Only 90 of those, however, resulted in a person being charged, or 4.8%. This percentage is lower than the national average of 5.3%.

Internal investigations

Dozens of Home Office staff are under criminal investigation for a range of offences including immigration crime, fraud and drug offences, the Guardian has learned.

In response to a freedom of information (FoI) request about its little-known anti-corruption criminal investigation unit (ACCIU), the department revealed that 16 allegations were either awaiting charging advice or trial and a further 18 were under investigation.

The data, which covers the past three years, also shows there have been two criminal convictions of Home Office staff after investigations by the ACCIU.

Locum staff

This has potential to work for different public bodies and covering different areas of medicine.

The NHS in Scotland spent nearly £30 million on locum psychiatrists in a year. Figures obtained by freedom of information requests showed that Scotland’s 14 health boards splashed out £29,606,336.61 on locum psychiatrists in 2022/23.

This was up nearly £10 million – a whole 50% – from just three years previously. The spend in the 2019/2020 financial year was £19,868,166.

No police in sight

Police failed to show up to more than seven in 10 car thefts last year. Some 30,900 vehicle thefts went unattended by officers in 2023, accounting for 72% of all cases during this period, according to research by the Liberal Democrats.

The number of unattended incidents had also risen dramatically compared to previous years, up 32% from 2021 figures, which saw 22,979 unattended car theft incidents.

Of the 23 forces that responded to freedom of information requests, Cambridgeshire was the worst performing, with 1,156 incidents of car theft going unattended, accounting for 90% of all cases. Bedfordshire followed closely behind with 1,187 (88%) of incidents not attended by officers, responses show.

Drug dealing in hospital

This is an FOI following up on police press releases and social media posts.

Since January 1, this year, and April 12, the PSNI had posted seven separate posts about drug dealing around the Royal Victoria Hospital, on their Facebook page. Statements ranged from arrest notices, to warnings, and often had photos attached, of officers on foot patrol around hospital grounds and in the ED.

Figures obtained by Belfast Live showed that From January 1 2023 to March 6 2024, there were 20 reports of drug dealing in and around the Royal Victoria Hospital in the time period provided. During the same time period, there were four arrests made where the arrest address premises name was the Royal Victoria Hospital, or the arrest address street name included ‘Broadway’ or ‘Grosvenor’.

Cancelled trains and very cancelled buses

A reminder that if public transport companies are publicly owned they are often subject to the Freedom of Information Act (and an increasing number of train companies now fall into this category).

Local Scottish Conservatives submitted a freedom of information request to find out the total number of cancelled and delayed train services in both of the financial years since ScotRail transitioned to Scottish Government control at Motherwell, Wishaw, Shieldmuir and Airbles stations.

The ScotRail data highlights that a total of 1,331 services were cancelled at Motherwell in 2022/23 compared with 1774 in 2023/24 – a rise of 443.

Meanwhile, statistics uncovered through a Freedom of Information request by Sarah Olney, Liberal Democrat MP for Richmond Park, show that TfL had 685,557 fewer scheduled bus journeys in 2023, compared with 2022.

It represents a reduction in journeys of 1.9% between the two years.

Term-time fines

Parents in Oldham have paid about £240,000 in council fines in a year over school absences, with many choosing to take their children on term-time holidays. The penalties were paid to Oldham Council by more than 5,600 parents across the 2021-22 academic year.

The data on fines for pupil absences across Oldham was revealed after a Freedom of Information request by the Local Democracy Reporting Service. The £240,000 figure is almost three times more than in 2021/22, when fines brought in £87,000.


Councils in Northern Ireland have paid close to £70,000 to local influencers in the last five years as part of their advertising budgets. Freedom of Information requests from Belfast Live have detailed the amount each council has spent on influencers, as well as the influencers which have been paid by the local authority.

A number of well-known NI media personalities feature in the list of influencers who received payments from councils, including several presenters from radio stations Cool FM and Q Radio. Pete Snodden and Paulo Ross from Cool FM feature on the list, as does Q Radio’s Jordan Humphries.

Stopped clocks

This potentially work for any public body that has a big public facing clock that needs to be right (although I suspect in many places people are sat looking at wrong clocks).

Data released under Freedom of Information laws reveal the Commons and Lords paid out £3,288.68 in overtime and travel costs for staff to come in and change every clock in the Palace of Westminster over the course of the Easter weekend.

It’s more than double the £1,233.82 cost of changing the clocks from British Summer Time to Greenwich Meantime in November last year, most likely because of increased overtime costs over the bank holiday weekend. It’s not clear if this included the cost of moving the giant hands on Big Ben.

Picture by Nic Wood on Pexels

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