Council staff are being paid through limited companies in arrangements described as “tax avoidance” , The Daily Telegraph reports. A Freedom of Information request by the BBC Radio 4′s File on 4 programme revealed that nearly 100 highly paid positions are being filled using deals which allow public servants to make their own tax arrangements rather than use the PAYE system.
Public accounts committee chair Margaret Hodge told The BBC that the situation was a “tax avoidance scheme, which is totally wrong…I think they [HMRC] have to be more ambitious, I think they’ve got to work harder, and I think they’ve got to do better at getting that money in.”
Hackney Council had the highest number, with 39 people in permanent posts paid through external companies. The arrangements means individuals are taxed and pay national insurance at lower rates.
The Local Government Association said councils adhere to strict HMRC rules. Chairman Sir Merrick Cockell said councils had a “responsibility to employ skilled staff in a way that provided good value to residents”.
NHS reform plans changing GP priorities
NHS records revealed through a Freedom of Information request show that GPs are spending as little as one day a week seeing patients as they are busy setting up organisations for the health reforms, The Guardian and the Independent report. Figures released as part of a request made by False Economy, a trade union-backed research group, show family doctors are devoting most of their time to setting up clinical commissioning groups (CCGs), the groups of family doctors that will replace PCTs in commissioning and paying for treatments on behalf of patients from April 2013.
More women fail driving test, DSA FOI reveals
Official figures from the Driving Standards Agency indicate that women are more likely than men to fail their driving test. The figures, released under the Freedom of Information Act, show that examiners recorded 1,660,206 errors by candidates that were serious enough to mean a failed test – 718,244 by men and 941,962 by women. The report described in the Telegraph also outlines the reasons for failure and suggests that women are more likely than men to fail for errors in reverse parking and inadequate observation.
Broadmoor patients seek thousands in compensation
Six of Britain’s most notorious killers and rapists at the Broadmoor high security hospital have received £64,000 in compensation in the past five years. In total, 17 patients have sued Broadmoor since 2006, a Freedom of Information response from the West London Mental Health Trust revealed. The most recent two cases won £7,500 in compensation after hurting themselves opening windows. Speaking to The Daily Mirror reports, a spokesperson from West London NHS Trust said: “Patients are entitled to claim damages for clinical and non-clinical negligence.”
Shisha bar rise despite smoking ban
There has been a rise of 210% in shisha bars across the UK since the smoking ban was put into place, the Independent reports. Freedom of information data collected by the British Heart Foundation from 133 local authorities in large towns and cities shows there were 179 shisha bars in 2007, rising to 556 now. According to the BBC report, the World Health Organisation has advised that a 40-minute session on a waterpipe is the equivalent to the volume of smoke inhaled from at least 100 hundred cigarettes.
The data will shed light on the events that resulted into the deaths of 96 Liverpool fans attending an FA Cup semi-final at Sheffield Wednesday and will include an emergency Cabinet meeting called by Margaret Thatcher, the then Prime Minister.
An independent panel is currently scrutinising the information, most of which is likely to be released next year. At the same time, as the Guardian reports, more than 100,000 people have signed an e-petition calling for “full government disclosure and publication of all documents” following a freedom of information request by the BBC.
The need of transparency is enhanced due to the smear campaign of the Sun who just four days after the disaster presented Liverpool supporters’ alleged “mass drunkness” as the cause. The news story headlined “The Truth”, also made claims about some fans urinating on police and injured fans and picking victims’ pockets as they lay on the pitch.
Although the paper did make attempts to apologise, the publication was deeply traumatising for the victims’ families, with some feeling it swayed public opinion toward believing that version of events.
Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister is backing the release of the documents: “The truth is the best antidote to people’s anger and suspicion, so we have got to get the truth out there. We are saying as a government we will give over all of the Cabinet papers. Everything that is normally the subject of Freedom of Information requests. We give it over to the panel and they can then have discussions with the families.”
Coalition’s links to lobbying under scrutiny
Government ministers meet up with corporate representatives almost two times more than charities and ten times more than union representatives, the Guardian reports. Tamasin Cave, of the lobbying transparency group Spinwatch, said the records are indicative of corporate networks of influence over government but warned they exclude the meetings held in a private capacity.
Cave’s organisation is currently engaged in a freedom of information battle with Cabinet minister Mark Harper who is supervising the coalition’s plan to introduce a lobbying registry. She alleges that Harper is resisting a FoIA request to reveal details of meeting about lobbying transparency.
Alistair Darling struggles for power over the Bank of England
A FoIA request that might reveal details of Alistair Darling’s call for legal aid to overrule Sir Mervyn King is currently under examination, as the Observer reports. According to the newspaper, Thomas Patterson, who is the chief economist of the news service, Gold Made Simple, has asked the Treasury for any documents connected to the chancellor’s call and although the request is covered by two exemptions, the ministry is weighing up the public interest in revealing the information.
Darling’s call for legal advice followed his exasperation with the governor of the Bank of England, who according to his own words “behaved like some kind of Sun King”. The final FoIA reply is expected by 1 November and will reveal important data in a time when the Bank is about to get a whole raft of new powers.
NHS cuts put sick and premature babies’ lives at risk
A survey conducted by the charity the Bliss found massive redundancies of nursing posts, freezing of vacancies and positions downgrades that would vulnerable babies’ lives at risk. The findings came after Freedom of Information requests by the charity to all neonatal units in England.
Oxford University invests in US arms manufacturer involved in cluster-bomb trade
FoIA requests submitted by the Independent revealed Oxford University has invested £630,000 in Lockheed Martin, a US defence giant with outstanding contracts to refurbish old stocks of cluster munitions.
Oxford University Endowment Management (OUEM) has also invested in other defence companies but the Lockheed deal is highly controversial because Britain has signed the Cluster Munitions Convention that bans the use, production, stockpiling and transfer of cluster bombs. Apparently the OUEM deal was closed through a loophole in the current legislation.
Council officials have a field day on taxpayer’s expense
An investigation led by the Telegraph hints to a scandal similar to that of the MPs’ expenses. This time the taxpayer-funded expenses of council officials indicate a shocking wastage by the local authorities.
The newspaper reports that more than 100 chief executives are paid more than the Prime Minister and they receive the most generous public sector pension packages in Europe. The documents were obtained after a Freedom of Information request.