Retail commentator Paul Turner Mitchell found the Treasury unable to answer Freedom of Information requests relating to bad debts suffered by HMRC for unpaid PAYE and VAT owed by insolvent retailers, with officials claiming they did not keep such statistics by industry sector.
Undeterred, he instead commissioned corporate health management specialists Company Watch to conduct independent research. Unearthed was the sheer scale of damage inflicted on the UK economy from some of the most high-profile retail collapses of 2012.
All in all, the research shows that the overall losses suffered by trade suppliers, landlords, employees and HMRC on the 20 largest retailers to file for insolvency since the beginning of 2012 totals £1 billion. Within this total lies a £134 million cost to the UK taxpayer. Read more
The Information Daily | 10th April 2013
BBC staff have lost 785 laptops, tablet computers and mobile phones in the past three years, a Freedom of Information request has revealed.
Since 2010, BBC staff have misplaced or had stolen 399 laptops worth £598,500, 347 mobiles worth up to £104,100, and 39 tablets at £58,500, according to the FoI request.
And there has been a marked increase in the number of missing gadgets in the last year, with 350 laptops, mobiles or tablet devices lost or stolen in 2012, compared to 259 in 2011. Read more
Josh Halliday | The Guardian | 10th April 2013
LANDLORDS in the East of England have paid more than £100m in business rates on empty properties in the last financial year, the Taxpayers’ Alliance has revealed.
A Freedom of Information request for figures has showed that £100,978,346 was raised in business rates levied on empty properties in the region from 2011-12.
In East Herts, £1,351,284 was collected in 2009-10, £1,341,216 in 2010-11 and £1,607,146 in 2011-12. In Broxbourne, £912,662 was levied on empty properties in 2009-10, £1,018,597 in 2010-11 and £775,408 in 2011-12. Across Great Britain, more than £1.1bn was paid in empty property rates in 2011-12. Read more
Hertfordshire Mercury Business News | 10th April 2013
The company running the detention centre on Christmas Island has warned the government several times of a high threat of violence. Channel Seven reported on Wednesday that documents they obtained under freedom of information revealed services company Serco sent security intelligence summaries to the immigration department warning the threat of violence at the island’s centre.
Serco warned that tents could be used “as a source of weapons and a target for arson”. It advised the use of tents “as alternative or emergency accommodation should be reconsidered and an alternative sought”.
Three warnings were sent to the department in the latter part of 2012. An immigration spokesman told Seven on Wednesday the tents were still being used. Read more
The Sydney Morning Herald | 10th April 2013
Taxpayers’ personal data, including records of web sites they have visited and where their mobile phone calls are made, is being viewed by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs on an increasingly frequent basis.
In 2011, HMRC was authorised to view 14,381 items of “communications data” on taxpayers while investigating tax evasion, compared with 11,513 items in 2010, according to figures released under the Freedom of Information Act and seen by The Independent.
Using the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, HMRC can see web sites viewed by taxpayers; where a mobile phone call was made or received; and the date and time of emails, texts and phone calls. It is not clear how many times the surveillance has led to a successful prosecution for tax evasion – or whether those found to be innocent are told that they have been spied on. HMRC did not respond to requests for this information. Read more.
Nick Huber | The Independent | 13th January 2013
Sackings and suspensions hit a five-year high in the City last year, as the financial crisis continued to take its toll on employment amid a clampdown on wrongdoing by the regulator.
A total of 1,373 City staff were suspended or dismissed last year, which represents a 76 per cent jump on the year before, as the Financial Services Authority stepped up its campaign against white-collar crime.
“The FSA has increasingly shown that it is cracking down on financial crime and market abuse. Financial services firms are operating under increased scrutiny and as a result employers are imposing industry rules more strictly,” said Helen Farr, a partner at Pinsent Masons, the law firm which sourced the figures through a freedom of information request. “FSA enforcement activity has clearly had an impact on firms’ willingness to tolerate wrongdoing. Firms now appear much more likely to discipline employees for offences,” Ms Farr continued, adding that the case of Kweku Adoboli had helped focus minds in the industry. Read more.
Tom Bawden | The Independent | 14th January 2013
The number of police officers under the age of 26 has fallen by almost half in two years, it has been reported.
The 9,088 young officers working in England and Wales in 2009-2010 dropped to 4,758 in 2011-2012.
The sharpest drops of nearly two-thirds were reported by police forces in Cleveland, North Wales and Staffordshire, according to figures obtained by a Freedom of Information request by BBC Radio 4′s The World This Weekend.
In 2012 overall policing numbers hit their lowest in nine years, with around 10,000 fewer police officers than two years ago, following budget cuts which have slowed recruitment. Read more.
London Evening Standard | 13th January 2013
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie MSP has urged the SNP toWillie Rennie begin 2013 with a fresh commitment to open government. Speaking ahead of the Stage 3 debate on the Freedom of Information (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill, Mr Rennie has called on Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon to support the introduction of a purpose clause to the bill.
The purpose clause would plainly set out how the bill could be used to expand the public’s right to access information about bodies which spend the public pound. It requires governments to increase progressively the availability of information held by Scottish public authorities. This is an amendment the Scottish Liberal Democrats will be supporting in the final debate.
Speaking ahead of the debate, Mr Rennie said:
“2012 saw the SNP throw away any credibility it had for governing openly and transparently. While Alex Salmond talked of a modern, liberal Scotland, his government was drawing the blinds and double locking the doors. The Freedom of Information (Amendment) (Scotland) bill is the first test of whether the SNP have been listening to concerns about their fondness for secrecy. Read more.
Scottish Liberal Democrats | 11th January 2013
Mice, uncooked chicken and out of date turkey are just some of the hygiene nasties that health inspectors have discovered at Premier League football grounds.
The two most recent environmental reports from teams in the top tier of English football have revealed some surprising findings.
An inspection of Manchester United’s stadium Old Trafford discovered that the club has previously had to deal with the presence of rodents.
Chelsea FC, bankrolled by Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich, were criticised for previously almost serving ‘cooked turkey saddles’ that were out of date.
As a result they were warned that this was a ‘serious contravention’ of hygiene laws.
The information, which was obtained through Freedom of Information requests, also highlighted some other interesting discoveries.
Tom White | The Daily Mail | 14th January 2013
Plans to let the Royal Family escape the glare of Freedom of Information (FOI) laws in Scotland have been rejected by MSPs who say they should face the same scrutiny as other public bodies.
New laws have been rushed through south of the Border to protect the Royals, and the Scottish Government wants to follow suit. The move comes after a judge ruled that dozens of letters written by Prince Charles to “lobby” the coalition government on various policy areas should be released.
But the SNP Government’s proposals have suffered a setback in a report published by the Nationalist-dominated finance committee at Holyrood today which calls for the royal FOI “exemption” to be ditched. Read more.
Scott McNab | The Scotsman | 2nd November 2012
HMRC is paying many thousands of pounds each year to informants who tell them about people who are not declaring all of their income.
Paid informants received £373,780 in 2011/12 which was well up on the previous year’s £309,620.
This information was obtained thanks to the London law firm Reynolds Porter Chamberlain LLP (RPC) who extracted it from HMRC under the Freedom of Information Act. Read more.
Adrian Huston | Belfast Telegraph | 2nd November 2012
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) uses 130 premium rate 0845 phone lines that charge taxpayers up to 40 pence a minute to ring from mobile phones, The Daily Telegraph can disclose.
Lines that charge these fees include those for the Pensions Service and Jobcentre Plus.
Just under 5 million people contacted the DWP’s seven most commonly-used 0845 lines in an eight week period earlier this year, according to information obtained under Freedom of Information (FOI) legislation. This means that around 32 million people ring these numbers over the course of a year. Read more.
James Hall | The Telegraph | 2nd November 2012
A catalogue of rough handling and mishaps worthy of a slapstick comedy at the country’s top museums and galleries has been disclosed, leaving works by artists ranging from Poussin to Roy Lichtenstein damaged thanks to the staff who are supposed to conserve them.
In one of the more comical incidents, at the National Portrait Gallery, the ornament on a frame around a painting of John Dryden, the 17th century poet, by James Francis Mauber valued at £25,000 was detached after a visitor who was part of a large tour group was accidentally knocked off balance by a security officer and fell onto it.
In all, 199 exhibits have been damaged at or lost or stolen from eight of Britain’s national galleries and museums in the last three years, figures released under the Freedom of Information Act reveal. Read more.
Josie Ensor | The Telegraph | 4th November 2012
One prisoner every week has been freed by mistake from British jails including murderers and sex offenders, alarming new figures reveal.
Officials blamed the blunders on errors such as inmates having the same name as others who were supposed to be freed, incorrect documents and prison sentences calculated wrongly.
A staggering 369 prisoners have been released by mistake since 2005, according to figures released by the Ministry of Justice following a Freedom of Information request by Mail Online. Read more.
Larisa Brown | The Daily Mail | 2nd November 2012
Euro 2012: Tournament football and domestic violence As England’s Euro 2012 campaign kicks off, police forces across the country have issued warnings about domestic violence. But what impact do international football tournaments have on this type of abuse? Research by BBC News has found there was a surge in domestic violence reports to police during the 2010 World Cup. Figures obtained from police forces across England under the Freedom of Information Act show that when England beat Slovenia, nationally the rate per 1,000 people of domestic violence reports increased by 27%.
Read more. Rebecca Café | BBC News | 11th June 2012
Steve Jobs’ Pentagon File: Blackmail Fears, Youthful Arrest and LSD Cubes
Steve Jobs thought someone might kidnap his daughter in order to blackmail him, according to a newly released Department of Defense document that was filled out in the 1980s when Jobs underwent a background check for a Top Secret security clearance. That revelation, along with some new details on Jobs’ drug use and a previously unreported arrest as a minor, comes from a questionnaire that Jobs filled out for the clearance investigation, which was acquired by Wired through a Freedom of Information Act request.
Read more. Kim Zetter | Wired | 11th June
Scanners at airports to reveal all
CONTROVERSIAL full-body scanners due to be introduced into Australian airports next month will identify prosthesis wearers, including breast cancer survivors and transgender passengers. Earlier this year the federal government announced the new scanners, to be installed in eight international terminals, would be set to show only a generic stick-figure image to protect passengers’ privacy. But documents released under freedom of information show that, in meetings with stakeholders, Office of Transport Security representatives confirmed the machines would detect passengers wearing a prosthesis.
Read more. Rory Callinan | The Sydney Morning Herald | 11th June 2012
Quarter of callers hang up on HMRC after long waits Figures, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, showed that 28pc of callers gave up midway through their call to the pay-as-you-earn helpline. This is up from 10pc in 2009, when the average waiting time was one minute 53 seconds. Last year, the average waiting time was five minutes 45 seconds. The revelation comes just months after Government figures showed that complaints to the tax office about delays in responses had increased by nearly a third. The figures showed that HMRC that received more than 76,000 complaints from customers in the last tax year, up from 73,000 last year, but down from 84,500 in the 2008-9 tax year.
Read more. Paul Farrow | The Telegraph | 11th June 2012
3m savers pay too much tax on their savings – Almost three million pensioners and low-paid workers have paid too much tax on their savings according to new research
HM Revenue & Customs has admitted that as many as 3.5 million people should have been liable to pay just 10pc tax on their savings, during 2009/10 – rather than the 20pc tax that is automatically deducted. But a freedom of information request revealed that only 718,000 had applied to have this tax repaid.
Save our Savers – the campaign group that is lobbying for a change to the way bank and building society accounts are taxed – said these figures showed that many people are paying far more tax than they should on their savings. A spokesman said: “It is often pensioners, who have low incomes, but reasonable savings pots that are losing out. A recent Parliamentary report suggested that as many as 2.4 million pensioners have overpaid tax on their savings.”
Emma Simon | The Telegraph | 7th June 2012
Carole Ewart: Freedom of Information ‘reform’ is too limited
IT’S always worrying when government ministers boast how good they are at disclosing information that we are entitled to know.
And wen Brian Adam MSP, in announcing the Freedom of Information (FoI) Bill, tells us how good the Scottish Government is getting in disclosing information, campaigners feel the news is being managed.
Ironically, it is what he hasn’t said, and what isn’t in the bill that is the problem. Increasing the range and number of organisations covered by FoI in Scotland is key to any legal reform.
The Scotsman | 7th June 2012
First the ‘targeted killing’ campaign, then the targeted propaganda campaign – Officially, the CIA insists its drone war is a state secret, yet we’re now seeing a concerted PR effort to sanitise its dubious legality
A story in last week’s New York Times painted a remarkably detailed picture of the US government’s so-called “targeted killing” campaign, a campaign that involves the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (drones) to kill suspected insurgents and terrorists and, it turns out, many, many others, as well. The story, written by Jo Becker and Scott Shane, discussed the CIA’s choice of munitions, its efforts to avoid civilian casualties, and its method for calculating the number of civilians killed in any given strike. The story also underscored the extent to which President Obama himself is involved in overseeing the campaign – and even in selecting its targets.
The story has already received a great deal of coverage, but two aspects of it deserve more attention.
The first has to do with the targeted killing campaign itself. Long before the New York Times story was published, human rights organizations questioned the campaign’s lawfulness. At the ACLU, we sued over elements of the campaign two years ago, contending that the US government’s then-proposed (and now-realized) killing of Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen would violate both international law and the US constitution.
Jameel Jaffer and Nathan Wessler | The Guardian | 6th June 2012
House to work on Freedom of Information Bill in July
MANILA, Philippines – The House of Representatives has run out of time to tackle the Freedom of Information (FOI) Bill and will work on it in its next and last regular session, which starts on July 23.
The House and the Senate are ending their second regular session this weekend.
Eastern Samar Rep. Ben Evardone, public information committee chairman, said yesterday he would like to assure all stakeholders that the FOI Bill will be in the front burner after President Aquino’s State of the Nation Address (SONA) on July 23.
Jess Diaz | The Philippine Star | 6th
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.
A FoIA request for Lord Stevens’ diaries reveals he had dinner at the Ivy with the editor of the News of The World while Milly Dowler was still missing, The Independent reports.
The diaries were allegedly lost during the course of the NoTW phone hacking investigation but have now been found. They show that the former Metropolitan Police Commissioner Lord Stevens met several senior executives from national media during his years in office, from 2000 to 2005.
The diaries were released to the Press Association following a request under the Freedom of Information Act and reveal a long list of NoTW executives that Lord Stevens dined with.
The list includes former NoTW and Sun editor Rebekah Brooks, former News International executive chairman Les Hinton, former NoTW editor Andy Coulson, former NoTW managing editor Stuart Kuttner, and NoTW’s former executive editor, Neil Wallis.
The Independent mentions that Lord Stevens said in his autobiography that he worked hard to foster good relations with newspapers and be “available” to editors.
His relationship with the press was indeed close as the diaries show. Other media executives he met up with include The Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger, The Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre and the former Daily Mirror editor Piers Morgan.
Bankruptcies rise in Scotland
Freedom of Information requests submitted by the law firm McGrigors show a steep rise in the number of petitions for bankruptcy in Scotland. The BBC reports that the figure has leapt by 97 per cent over a three-year period, while that number has fallen in England and Wales. McGrigors’ Pamela Muir said: “The message from HMRC is clear – if you have been given time to settle your tax affairs but have been unable or unwilling to do so, there will be no second chances.”