Last month the Government banned gagging orders for NHS employees after it emerged that more than £18 million had been spent on silencing 600 staff.
However, the use of similar orders is widespread for departing employees across both local authorities and Whitehall, leading to accusations that ministers are being “hypocritical”.
In Whitehall, more than 200 civil servants and officials have signed compromise agreements in the past two years, at a total cost of £14 million. Officials said it was “standard practice” for them to include confidentiality clauses.
One of the biggest payoffs was made to Philippa Williamson, a former chief executive of the Serious Fraud Office, who left on voluntary redundancy.
She received £462,000 and is thought to have signed a confidentiality agreement.
Local authorities have signed 4,562 compromise agreements with former staff, according to figures released under freedom of information laws. Most of them contain confidentiality clauses. Read more
Steven Swinford | The Telegraph | 2nd April 2013
In Germany, Hamburg’s Commissioner for Data Privacy and Freedom of Information said it will review the way in which Google processes users’ data. Although Google seeks their consent, it is impossible for users to foresee the scope of this consent, Commissioner Johannes Caspar warned in a news release.
Analyses compiled by CNIL raise questions about the legality of Google’s processing of personal data, Caspar said.
The six countries will now take a close look at Google’s compliance with the law. “Should the data protection concerns be confirmed, appropriate supervisory measures may be taken in the individual member states,” he said.
The French National Commission on Computing and Liberty (CNIL) said it has notified Google of the initiation of an inspection procedure.
Peter Sayer | Computer World | 2nd April 2013
The figure will intensify mounting concern over how police can avoid the consequences of incompetence and misconduct, after Sir Norman Bettison, the former West Yorkshire chief constable, was criticised for stepping down while he was facing a disciplinary investigation.
Last week the police watchdog said Sir Norman, 57, would have faced gross misconduct charges and possible dismissal had he not resigned last year, entitled to a pension worth an estimated £87,000 annually.
Chief constables and their deputies will come under the closest scrutiny in the light of the new figures because a record number of senior officers have been sacked or suspended for misconduct in the last two years.
Last week the deputy chief constable of Cleveland police was sacked for gross misconduct.
Figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show 1,813 police officers in England and Wales retired or resigned while under investigation for disciplinary offences in the 10 years to 2011, the most recent data available. Read more
David Barrett | The Telegraph | 31st March 2013
The iPad tablet computers, worth tens of thousands of pounds, have been lent to 91 MPs who agreed not to receive information on the committees on paper, according to a Freedom of Information request.
It means that in all more than 250 MPs now have the iPads, because other colleagues choose to claim for tablet computers through the MPs’ expenses system.
Campaigners questioned why the MPs were entitled to iPads when there were cheaper tablet computers on the market.
Matthew Sinclair, Chief Executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: “It is incumbent on the Commons authorities to demonstrate that money really is being saved by paying for tablets instead of automatically printing out committee documents.
“Otherwise people will suspect that it’s a ruse to allow the MPs to get their hands on the latest gizmo courtesy of the taxpayer.
“In any event, iPads are a top-of-the-range, premium product and there are much cheaper alternatives available which would save even more taxpayers’ money.”
The MPs are all members of one of nine committees which scrutinise the work of central Government on behalf of the House of Commons. Read more
Christopher Hope | Daily Telegraph | 2nd April 2013
City of Edinburgh Council has been heavily criticised for its lack of disclosure of information about a statutory repair scheme.
The council has been accused of overcharging hundreds of city residents for allegedly unnecessary building repair work and expending “a disproportionate amount” of the Information Commissioner’s resources by taking 16 months to release information that should have been disclosed within 20 working days, a report has said.
In October 2011, Edinburgh property owner Helena Wilson asked her local authority for photographs and engineer and surveyor reports, as well as a breakdown of her repair costs.The council insisted that Ms Wilson’s request could prejudice an investigation amid allegations of breach of practice and refused it, the commissioner said.
The council reconsidered and pledged to provide the information in March 2011. But it took another 11 months of pressure by the commissioner to unearth the bulk of the information.
The commissioner has ruled that the council was not entitled to withhold most of the information requested and that it breached freedom of information guidelines. Read more
The Scotsman | 29th March 2013
The Oyo State Government said on Monday that it was not bound to domesticate the Freedom of Information Act.
Mr Ojo Adebayo, the state’s Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, told the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Ibadan that the state’s decision on the Act was guided by the position of the law and not by the selfish interest of the government.
“It is not about the government, but of the law and the law says that both the federal and state government can concurrently legislate on it.
“Being an item on the concurrent list, both of us are free to either legislate on it or not.
“However, while the federal government had legislated and now we have the Act, Oyo State has not done that.
“The law is, therefore, made for the federal government and its agencies all over the country and it is not applicable to us in Oyo State.
“We are not bound by the Act, because we are operating federalism and the state is a co-partner in the federation,” he said.
The Attorney-General added that the state government may, however, voluntarily elect to domesticate the Act.
“Although we are not an appendage of the federal government, we may legislate on it if we feel otherwise,” he said.
NAN recalls that the Freedom of Information Bill was signed into law by President Goodluck Jonathan in May 28, 2011. Read more
Leadership Newspapers Nigeria | 3rd April 2013
The Council of the Isles of Scilly is continuing to ignore some freedom of information queries. And they’ve been issued with their second notice in six months warning that they have breached the Freedom of Information Act.
The Council has refused to explain who gave authority for an official apology to be made in a meeting last May. At the time members were unclear who had authorised the public apology for comments that had allegedly upset an employee during a debate the previous July.
It later emerged that the upset staff member was offered a sum believed to be £500, after they went to a mainland employment tribunal.
The Council refused to say who had signed off the statement, saying it was confidential.
The Information Commissioner has criticised their response for not properly explaining why the information couldn’t be released and for failing to provide an internal review of that decision. Read more
Andy Hargreaves | Scilly Today | 2nd April 2013
Thousands of motorists could have passed their driving test without being able to read English road signs, experts fear.
At least 3,144 learners in Greater Manchester needed translators to guide them through their practical test last year. This was up from 2,274 in 2010/11 and 1,561 the year before.
The figures, obtained under Freedom of Information laws, revealed a growing trend that the Driving Standards Agency (DSA) is looking to ban amid fears that new drivers will not understand basic road signs.
The DSA is also concerned that translators – often a family member or friend – could help the learner to cheat. Since 2009, £94,500 a year has been spent on cases outing such fraudsters. Read more
Mia de Graaf | Manchester Evening News | 2nd April 2013
The FBI has insisted that a formerly secret document about UFOs which became an internet sensation after its release does not prove the existence of aliens.
The so-called Guy Hottel Memo was published in 2011 after a Freedom of Information Act request.
The document dates from 1950 and states that an investigator “for the Air Force” had reported three “flying saucers” had crashed in New Mexico. Read more
Michael Rundell | Huffington Post UK | 3rd April 2013
Children as young as seven are being admitted to hospital with alcohol problems, an investigation has found.
Shocking new figures have revealed dozens of under-10s have been hospitalised suffering from mental and behavioural disorders due to alcohol use.
A Freedom of Information request to all of England’s 166 NHS hospital trusts revealed a total of 380 children aged 10 or under were treated for alcohol intoxication between 2008 and 2012.
Worryingly, 67 of the trusts approached either failed or refused to the Freedom of Information request, meaning the figures are likely to be even higher. Read more
Anna Hodgekiss | Daily Mail | 3rd April 2013
Female prisoners at some of the toughest women only jails have been putting their names on waiting list for copies of Fifty Shades Of Grey after prison chiefs bought copies of the novel, it has been claimed.
According to a Freedom of Information request revealed today, taxpayers’ cash has been spent stocking at least five prison libraries with the ‘mummy porn’.
Now prison sources say the inmates, desperate to read the book, are putting their names on library waiting lists to get hold of it.
The book is stocked at HMP Foston Hall in Derbyshire – a 310-capacity jail, which was previously home to Soham killer Ian Huntley’s partner Maxine Carr
A jail source added: ‘Fifty Shades of Grey has proved massively popular throughout the female prison estate.
‘Women were constantly requesting the book from prison libraries but were told it was not available, so in the end it was decided to get some copies in.’
It comes as Justice Secretary Chris Grayling orders all X-rated films must be removed from jails, but the crackdown does not include books. Read more
Daily Mail | 2nd April 2013
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.