Tobacco investments to be reconsidered by Norfolk and Essex councils
Two councils in the East region are to reconsider multi-million pound pension fund investments in tobacco before they take a lead role in NHS anti-smoking campaigns in 2013.
The move comes after a BBC Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request showed councils across the region have invested more than £167m in tobacco.
Norfolk has invested £25.9m while Essex has invested £9.1m.
The two councils have said they would now review their investments
BBC | 18th of June 2012
Devon and Cornwall Police Taser use nearly doubles
The number of times police have used Tasers in Devon and Cornwall has nearly doubled over a two-year period.
Figures obtained by the BBC through the Freedom of Information Act show the stun guns were used 34 times in 2010 and 65 times last year.
Human rights groups say they were being used too readily. Devon and Cornwall police said the rise could be linked to the increased number of officers now trained to use Tasers.
Of the force’s 3,200 officers, 480 are trained to use Tasers, up from 150 before 2009 and spending on the weapon rose from £33,470 in 2009 to £101,379 last year, according to an FoI request.
BBC | 19th June 2012
Fife Ness Coastguard Station continues ‘life-or-death’ work as closure approaches
A significantly understaffed workforce at Fife Ness Coastguard Station has coordinated more than 400 potential life-and-death rescue operations since it was announced last July that the centre is to close.
A Freedom of Information request by The Courier has revealed that between July 2011 and June 7 the rescue centre — which will close on September 28 — handled 426 incidents recorded as alarm, distress or uncertainty requiring rescue coordination.
The news that Fife Ness, along with the base at Clyde, would be shutting was confirmed by the UK Government last summer following a lengthy consultation period.
Michael Alexander | The Courier | 18th of June 2012
Court out: Shocking haul of 10,000 deadly weapons seized every year from people going into court
At least 35,000 dangerous items such as guns and knives have been recovered by court staff in the last three years.
More than 10,000 deadly weapons are seized every year from suspects, witnesses and the public as they go into court. Figures reveal at least 35,000 dangerous items such as guns and knives have been recovered by court security staff across the country in the last three years.
Mirror | 18th of June 2012
Fear of bullying claims hits public-sector reform
Senior officials express grave doubts over viability of Croke Park deal. Public-sector reform is impossible because managers “fear” they will not be “backed up” and could be accused of bullying if they try to tackle underperformance, top civil servants have said.
Confidential Department of Finance documents released under the Freedom of Information Act show senior officials have expressed grave doubts over the viability of the Croke Park deal.
These documents come amid fresh concern that the agreement is not delivering and follow comments by Transport Minister Leo Varadkar that compulsory redundancies must form part of any new Croke Park deal.
Daniel McConnell and Tom Lyons | Irish Independent | 17th of June 2012
Google claims engineers were unaware of Street View data breach
Google has published sworn declarations from nine engineers, as the company tries to answer claims it orchestrated a cover-up of its collection of personal data from millions of internet users. Nine engineers involved in the controversial Street View project said they were unaware it had been designed to capture private data, including full emails, medical listings and passwords.
Google published the written testimony late on Tuesday, hours after the UK information commissioner launched a fresh investigation into the data collection. It is understood that Google publicly released the documents in response to a Freedom of Information request, not in response to the ICO investigation.
Josh Halliday | The Guardian | 13th June 2012
FoI by Salmon and Trout Association shows reality of failure on sea lice
control in salmon farms
(S&TA) has today published yet more worrying evidence of widespread failure to control sea lice in the Scottish salmon-farming industry. An analysis by S&TA of the inspections conducted by the Scottish Government’s Fish Health Inspectorate (FHI) of marine salmon farms in Scotland between June and December last year (2011), obtained under Freedom of Information (FoI), shows:
Andrew Graham-Stewart | Argyll News | 13th June 2012
Dole Office staff snooped into private data 992 times in 10 months
Staff at the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) were disciplined a total of 992 times for unlawfully or inappropriately accessing individuals’ social security records between April 2011 and January this year.
The figures were obtained following a freedom of information (FOI) request to DWP by Channel 4′s Dispatches programme.
Last week Dispatches reported on the ‘blagging’ of personal data by private detectives and reported on the number of data offences recorded by DWP.
The Register | 23rd May 2012
New Collection of Rendition Data Brings Together Records of over 1100 Victims and Shows Involvement of 45 Countries
Madrid/London, 22 May 2012 - A global repository of information on rendition and secret detention was launched yesterday (21 May) with a collection of records concerning over 1100 victims and 6500 rendition flights. Extensive data on rendition flights collected by Access Info Europe forms a substantial part of the information being launched by The Rendition Project.
The project, led by UK academics and human rights organization Reprieve, is the largest of its kind and collates all information about rendition currently in the public domain. All of the flight data released using access to information laws across Europe and North America has been made available on the website in original formats, including information released to Access Info from nine countries in the last six months.
Access Info | 22 May 2012
On the Isle of Wight it’s been largely about cocaine and ecstasy, at Glastonbury the hauls of ketamine have been creeping up, while the drug of choice for heavy metal fans would seem to be Jack Daniels and other booze.
As a tens of thousands of young (and not so young) music fans await another festival season, new figures based on police activities at 10 major festivals over the past four years provide an insight into the range and scale of drugs seized.
They show that seizures of popular drugs such as cannabis and ecastasy have been in decline, possibly due factors such as changing behaviour, demographics and policing priorities.
Cocaine seizures have been in sharp decline since the onset of the economic hard times, and there is some evidence to back up suggestions that recreational drug users have been turning to relatively cheaper drugs like ketamine, the horse tranquilliser dubbed the ‘new ecstasy’.
Individual events also meanwhile display particular characteristics when it comes to the type of drugs seized.
The lion’s share of cocaine seizures last year took place at the Isle of Wight festival and the island’s other big musical event, Bestival, where 50,000 people enjoyed an eclectic mix of rock, folk and dance.
The two festivals also stood out from the others in terms of ecstasy seizures, accounting for nearly half of the value of all drugs seized at Bestival last year.
By contrast, drug seizures were almost non-existant at the Womad (World of Music, Arts and Dance), often regarded as the festival of choice for a stereotypically Guardian-reading, older music fan. Last year, the only drugs confiscated in swoops by Wiltshire Police was cannabis with a street value of £151.
Expectations that rock fans meanwhile might be prone to emulating some of their harder living idols are also somewhat confounded. Seizures were comparatively low at the two festivals catering for them – the Download festival in Leicestershire and Sonisphere at Knebworth House, Hertfordshire.
At Sonisphere, where 190,000 fans last year moshed along to bands including Motorhead and Slipknot, just over £400 of drugs was seized across the weekend. It was mostly cannabis, with cocaine making up the balance. Ecstasy and amphetamines were absent.
At the country’s best known gathering of music lovers, where Glastonbury organisor Michael Eavis last year said that the drug culture “had changed beyond belief” and that it was “a cheek to even suggest there’s a problem”, more than £200,000 worth of drugs has been seized by police over the past four years.
Last year’s haul of more than £44,000 was a rise of 12% on the previous year although, like other festivals where larger quanties of drugs have been confiscated, seizures are considerably down on 2009′s relative high.
Across all ten festivals – Glastonbury, V, the Isle of Wight, Bestival, Download, Sonisphere, Leeds, Reading, Womad and Wireless- there has been a sharp decline since that year in the value both of cocaine and cannabis seized, according to the figures obtained through a series of Freedom of Information requests by Request Initiative, a nonprofit that makes requests for charities and NGOs.
The graphics below show total street values of drugs seized in 2011, with figures broken down by substance and festival.
Just over £21,000 worth of cocaine was seized last year, compared to £88,000 in 2009, while the street value of confiscated cannabis last year was also down more than 75%.
The biggest proportional increase saw confiscations of piperazine, or BZP, increase in value tenfold over the same period, though last year’s total still amounted to less than half of those for each of cannabis, cocaine and ecstasy.
Other potential trends include the emergence of ketamine, identified in the past as the fastest growing “party drug” among 16-24 year olds. The festival where the largest amount’s worth of the drug (£8,277) was confiscated last year was Glastonbury, where the amounts have been creeping up.
The figures are low for the Wireless festival, where drug confiscations were conducted by private security and police present did not collect data relating to confiscations.
Drug charities cautioned against using the figures as an indicator about general drug use, suggesting that seizures depend on many other variables, ranging from police priorities to the weather.
However, Rupert George of the drugs charity Release, said the figures seemed to reflect the changing demographics of festival goers and the shift to an older crowd less likely to be taking drugs.
“Festivals have tended to become more expensive, corporate and mainstream with older more middle class crowds that probably attract far less intensive policing. The policing of drug possession tends to be disproportionately targeted at the young, the poor and people from ethnic minorities. Festival crowds probably no longer fit this profile.”
David Raynes of National Drug Prevention Alliance said cultural changes had brought about a situation where people are prepared to put almost anything into their bodies.
Adding that the drugs supply at festivals was not predictable, he said: “I am not sure that Policing generally makes the effort it once did, say 40 years ago, to detect drug dealers at festivals. I have never heard it spoken of as a priority. They will of course expect to come across drugs and as I recall there have been some high profile deaths.”
Raynes also referred to the ageing profile of festival goers, adding that may not have entirely given up on past habits and may well be much more more likely to use drugs than the wider population.
Brendan Montague, executive director of Request Initiative said: “This is the first major research project providing empirical evidence showing the extent and nature of drug taking at national music festivals in the UK and shows that Class A drugs including cocaine and MDMA are still very popular among music fans.”
“There has also been a significant shift from cocaine which is expensive to the cheaper drug ketamine as the country has been in and out of recession.”
For more information on how the information obtained and to explore the data in full, see our explanatory Datablog post.
The UK’s private sector accounted for more than a third of all reported data breaches over 11 months, but less than 1% of the resulting fines, according to a Freedom of Information request.
The data was issued by the Information Commissioner’s Office after a request by satellite system-maker Viasat.
It shows five fines totalling £790,000 were imposed on the public sector and one £1,000 penalty on a private firm.
BBC News | 25 April 2012
US military criticised for secrecy over death of Afghan BBC correspondent.
Ahmed Omed Khpulwak’s family was caused needless distress after he was shot by American soldiers, report finds
US military secrecy over the death of a BBC correspondent shot dead by US forces during a Taliban attack caused needless distress to his family and sparked fears of a cover-up, a report into the shooting has said.
The truth about Khpulwak’s death emerged weeks later, when the results of a US investigation were published. A redacted version of the full conclusions was released only after a freedom of information request.
Emma Graham-Harrison | The Guardian | 25 April 2012
A number of major Whitehall departments have slashed their Chief Information Officer salaries since 2008, according to central government figures.
The salary of the Department for Work and Pensions’ (DWP) CIO, a job previously held by Joe Harley before his retirement at the end of March, was £265,000-£270,000 in 2008-09. By 2011, that figure had dropped to £225,000-£229,999.
Other falls in CIO pay since 2008 were seen at the Department for International Development, where the salary band decreased from £80,000-£84,000 in 2008-09 to £75,000-£79,999 from November 2011, and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, where CIO pay was £135,000-£140,000 in 2009-10, dropping to £120,000-£124,999 in November 2011.
The figures were published in response to freedom of information requests by Guardian Government Computing. Of the 16 departments questioned, eight reported CIO salaries either falling or remaining static in recent years.
Read more here.
The Guardian | 20th April 2012
Contracts of private firms working in public sector should be re-examined.
THE terrible set of circumstances that took place at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary is a stark reminder of the potential risks when private companies are involved in delivering public services (“NHS board to sue after blunder”, The Herald, April 20). We should be extremely thankful that the surgeons and medical staff on duty at this time have the skills and knowledge to carry on operating when power was failing around them.
Very rarely does a public body criticise a private company working in its remit, so when NHS Lothian states it “could no longer tolerate the repeated and potentially life-threatening nature of such incidents”, everyone has to start to realise what is happening within the NHS and local authorities when work is carried out by private companies whose main interest is increasing their profit margin and share price.
In South Ayrshire the total projected cost to the council for five schools is £367.97m (assuming inflation is 2.5% from February 2012 onwards). This covers the 30 years of the contract. The reality is that this council is having to pay £9.148m (excluding VAT) every month (figures were sourced through Freedom of Information requests in 2011).
Read more here.
Herald Scotland | 23rd April 2012
Salmon farms ‘polluting’ lochs in Scotland
Scottish sea lochs are being polluted by salmon farms, according to a report published by the Salmon and Trout Association (S&TA).
The report analysed the levels of sea lice treatment chemical residues – which are used by salmon farmers – in the sea-beds of lochs across Scotland.
Information was obtained under Freedom of Information from the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa).
Read more here.
BBC | 20th April 2012
Police have thousand of pounds worth of gear stolen from them
SCOTS POLICE have had thousands of pounds worth of gear stolen from them in the last five years.
Items such ID badges, shot-gun certificates, welcome mats and even vehicles have been taken from the country’s constabularies since 2007, new figures have revealed.
More than 400 police possessions were reported as stolen including hats, jackets, fleeces, stab-proof vests, batons and handcuffs.
Thieves even managed to nick police mountain bikes, and patrol cars full of important documentation.
Information obtained from a Freedom of Information request revealed that Strathclyde police had more than 240 possessions go missing from their constabulary during the five-year period ranging from handcuffs to satellite navigation devices.
Read more here.
Deadline News | 22nd April 2012
The Labour Cabinet minister responsible for the Freedom of Information Act has called for it to be rewritten.
Jack Straw claimed that minutes were not taken of some “high level” meetings in order not to leave a paper trail while other important decisions would be made by text message, reducing accountability rather than increasing it.
He said that senior civil servants feared “horrific detail” from their notebooks about their ministers’ “streams of consciousness” would be made public under the transparency law, which he passed as Home Secretary in 2000.
Mr Straw said some discussions between ministers and officials about the formation of policy and the risks of certain decisions should be protected from disclosure, in order to allow a frank exchange of views.
But Mr Straw is only the latest in a series of senior politicians and mandarins to regret the scope of the FOI Act, which has laid bare Government spending, suppressed reports and the development of policy, often in embarrassing detail
Read more here.
Martin Beckford | The Telegraph | 17th April 2012
‘Thousands of children’ to lose legal aid in shake-up
Thousands of children will lose access to legal aid under government plans to shake up the system, campaigners say.
Child rights group JustRights analysed government data obtained from a series of Freedom of Information (FOI) requests.
It claims 6,000 children, or 13% of those who receive help with legal-aid costs, will lose it in the reforms.
Read more here.
Hannah Richardson | BBC | 17th April 2012
BBC redundancy payments cost almost £277m in seven years
The BBC has spent just under £277m in redundancy payments to nearly 6,000 staff in the past seven years, according to figures obtained by MediaGuardian.
Between March 2005 and February 2012 the BBC paid out £276,833,465 in redundancy payments to the 5,992 staff, according to the figures which have been obtained from a freedom of information request.
This makes the average redundancy payment just over £46,200 for each member of staff who took either compulsory or voluntary redundancy from the BBC during that period. Some of the redundancy payouts include extra money paid in lieu of holiday owed to staff
Read more here.
Ben Dowell | The Guardian | 17th April 2012
Minicab boss granted meeting with transport minister after Tory donation
The chairman of a minicab company that wants access to London’s restricted bus lanes was granted a private meeting with the transport secretary at which they discussed the matter after his firm donated £250,000 to the Conservative party.
John Griffin, the chairman of Addison Lee, met Philip Hammond last October and raised the question of access to the lanes. He also pushed the idea that the government should outsource chauffeur services for ministers to private companies.
Addison Lee, which has 3,500 vehicles in the capital, gave the Conservatives £100,000 last year, and £50,000 a year in each of the three previous years.
Minutes of the meeting with Hammond, released under the Freedom of Information Act, sparked opposition calls for the government to explain whether the donation and the meeting were linked.
Read more here.
Robert Booth | The Guardian | 16th April 2012
Security fears 8,500 military ID cards lost or stolen in one year
About 9,000 military identity cards were lost or stolen last year despite a huge anti-terror clampdown ahead of the Olympics.
The number of missing ID passes for the Army, Navy and RAF is more than double the figure from 2007 and 2008 combined.
Figures revealed by a Daily Mirror Freedom of Information request show numbers of “lost” cards reached a five-year high, with some 750 disappearing every month.
Read more here.
Chris Hughes | The Mirror | 18th April 2012
Three of five Republicans in the presidential race are receiving or will receive taxpayer-funded pensions, Bloomberg reports.
Front-runner Newt Gringrich draws a gross annual pension of over $100,000, while drop-out Rick Perry takes $92,000, according to documents released under Freedom of Information laws.
Both candidates have attacked federal pay and made cutting government spending a central plank of their campaigns.
Former vice president Dick Cheney is alongside Gringrich and Perry as one of 15,000 retired federal employees who receive six figure pensions, taking $125,976 per year.
Scots nuclear train timetables will not be disclosed
The Highland News reports that 94 trains will carry spent nuclear fuel through the Scottish Highlands over the next five to six years. The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority in a FoIA response confirmed the journeys but said schedules would be secret to avoid the risk of terrorist attacks on the trains. 45-tonne steel containers with 10-tonne lids will bear the material from the decommissioned Caithness plant in the far north to a reprocessing facility in Sellafield, England.
High costs of governors’ battle to keep contract under wraps
State officials in British Columbia have spent over C$124,000 resisting Freedom of Information requests for a secret contract with IBM – according to a Freedom of Information request. Canadian courts ordered the government to release the contract in 2009, but the tax campaigners are still fighting after seven years of legal action. Activists said the figure did not include government staff time the legal expenses of the Information and Privacy Commissioner.
The Metropolitan Police has spent nearly £250,000 on premium-rate call sevices over the past two years, according to a response to a Freedom of Information request made by the Press Association.
Scotland Yard officers and officials spent a total of £16,879 calling the speaking clock almost 55,000 times in 2010/11, down from ££18,402 the previous year.
A Scotland Yard spokesman told the BBC: “There are clearly evidential and operational reasons for officers and staff requiring the exact time and contact details.”
Fifteen year old girls biggest group at risk of self-harming
Girls of 15 are the most likely to attempt suicide or self-harm, The Sun has reported. 7,529 children aged 15 or under were admitted to A&E units after self-harming last year, of those 6,413 were girls and that 2,962 of those were aged 15. Lucie Russell, of mental health charity Young-Minds, said: “Self-harm is often dismissed as attention-seeking but it’s a sign young people are feeling terrible internal pain and are not coping.”
Children with shotguns pose no risk, claim campaigners
The Countryside Alliance have used figures from a Freedom of Information request to support their campaign against enforcing a minimum age for shotgun licenses. Figures from 33 police forces in England and Wales show that of the tens of thousands of under-18s who have been issued with a license, only two under 14s have had them revoked by police between 2008 and 2010, BBC reports.