Protesters are to launch a series of actions on Monday demanding that the Department for Transport disclose in full its advice on the building of the controversial Bexhill-Hastings link road.
Work is set to start in earnest on the £86m, 3.5-mile road this spring, after protesters were evicted from a forest camp in Combe Haven, East Sussex, last month. But campaigners believe that the crucial part of a report submitted to transport under-secretary Norman Baker may show that officials recommended the scheme should not go ahead.
Documents were released to campaigners after freedom of information requests, but parts were redacted. In correspondence from March 2012, the unnamed DfT official states that the scheme was “likely to offer either low or medium value for money” and adds that material submitted by “the promoter” of the link road “significantly overstates the benefits of the scheme”. However, the recommendation from officials to the minister has been redacted. Read more.
Gwyn Topham | The Guardian | 3rd March 2013
The multi-millionaire son of a Tory minister who presided over the controversial “right-to -buy” scheme is a buy-to-let landlord owning scores of former council flats.
A Daily Mirror investigation found a third of ex-council homes sold in the 1980s under Margaret Thatcher were now owned by private landlords.
In one London borough almost half of ex-council properties are now sub-let to tenants.
[The Mirror] used the Freedom of Information Act to ask city councils how many of their ex-flats, where they still own the freehold, were being sub-let by the leaseholder.
The 13 that responded told us in 32% of the properties, the leaseholder had an “away address” for correspondence – a clear sign the flat was being rented out. Read more.
Nick Sommerlad | The Mirror | 5th March 2013
Bush and Blair’s pre-Iraq conversation must be disclosed, tribunal rules
Foreign Office loses appeal against release of extracts from phone call that took place a few days before invasion
Extracts of a phone conversation between Tony Blair and George Bush a few days before the invasion of Iraq must be disclosed, a tribunal has ruled.
The Foreign Office lost an appeal against an order by the information commissioner, Christopher Graham, to disclose records of the conversation between the two leaders on 12 March 2003. Graham’s order was made in response to a freedom of information request by Stephen Plowden, a private individual who demanded disclosure of the entire record of the conversation.
Richard Norton Taylor | The Guardian | 21st May 2012
Revealed: Ministers dragging feet over key growth recommendations in Beecroft report
Ministers are dragging their feet over more than a dozen key recommendations from a confidential Government report on boosting economic growth in Britain.
The report recommends that parents should not be able to take flexible leave from work until Britain’s economy and public finances have recovered in 2017.
The Government is thought to be preparing to publish the Beecroft report after receiving a series of Freedom of Information requests.
Robert Winnett and Christopher Hope | The Telegraph | 21st May 2012
Soldier-turned-poet Robert Graves twice turned down the offer of an honour from Downing Street
Robert Graves used his Claudius novels to warn of the dangers of becoming too close to the centre of political power in Ancient Rome.
But newly released documents show that the soldier-turned-poet was equally sceptical about modern politicians – and twice turned down the offer of an honour from Downing Street.
Graves feared that his artistic independence would have been jeopardised if he had accepted either of the honours offered to him by two different Tory Prime Ministers – Harold Macmillan and Margaret Thatcher.
His reluctance to embrace the honours system is revealed in Cabinet Office letters obtained by this newspaper under Freedom of Information laws
Chris Hastings | The Daily Mail | 20th May 2012
Council of Europe cost Brighton and Hove taxpayers £40,000
Brighton and Hove taxpayers paid nearly £40,000 on hosting last month’s Council of Europe event, The Argus can exclusively reveal.
The figure has been labelled “ridiculous” and “a burden” as it has emerged that the conference’s declaration was all but agreed in advanced.
The total, obtained by The Argus following a Freedom of Information request, includes £10,000 spent on flagpoles and £1,574 on new posters as the existing ones in the Brighton Centre were deemed “inappropriate” by the Foreign Office.
Ben James | The Argus | 21st May 2012
Anti-social behaviour: Dyfed-Powys Police chief warns of cuts impact
A retiring chief constable says police could miss crime such as anti-social behaviour due to UK government cuts.
Ian Arundale of Dyfed-Powys Police warns that much anti-social behaviour comes from people with health and social problems rather than criminals.
Mr Arundale warned of a growing “austerity crimewave” in some areas.
Statistics released under the Freedom of Information Act show that 89,702 non-emergency calls were received in 2011 by the four Welsh police forces.
BBC Wales | 21st May 2012
Car hijack victims ‘failed by outdated damages law’
A leading solicitor has called on the Department of Justice to review the law on criminal damage compensation.
Current law in Northern Ireland says criminal damage has to be caused by three or more people, or terrorist acts, before compensation can be paid.
Both the SDLP and DUP agree the current system is in need of review.
Figures obtained by a Freedom of Information request show that, between April and September 2011, less than one fifth of the 474 criminal damage claims were successful under the “three or more persons” criterion.
Aileen Moynagh | BBC | 21st May 2012
“In brief, we have learnt that the top ranks of Merseyside Police helped to misinform Margaret Thatcher by wrongly blaming Liverpool fans”
- Martin Rosenbaum, BBC Freedom of Information specialist
Requests made under the Freedom of Information Act (FoIA) reveal that the government of Margaret Thatcher was misinformed about the cause of the 1989 Hillsborough disaster, the BBC reports.
In July 2011 the Information Commissioner ruled that it was in the public interest for documents about the Hillsborough tragedy to be released, since it would “add to the public knowledge and understanding about the reaction of various parties to that event, including the government of the day”.
The disclosed information shows that in April 1989 Prime Minister Thatcher was mislead about the tragedy at Hillsborough stadium, Sheffield in which ninety-six fans watching the FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forrest were crushed to death as a result of overcrowding. Drunken Liverpool supporters were, according to Merseyside Police’s description to the former Prime Minister, the cause of the incident.
The BBC adds: “The briefing she received also reported the assessment of the then Merseyside Chief Constable Sir Kenneth Oxford. He thought that a key factor was the presence of Liverpool fans without tickets and this was being ignored while the authorities were being blamed.”
Liverpool fans still mourn and seek explanations to the deaths of many of their fellow supporters. However, they have been blame had also been pointed to them for the Hillborough tragedy by South Yorkshire Police, who monitored the stadium on the day.
Cost of Scottish Nationalist Party’s Headline Policies revealed under FoIA
SNP leader Alex Salmond blocked the release of highly sensitive information until after the Scottish elections by appealing to the Court of Session twice, after the Scottish ICO ordered disclosure of data. The Telegraph, who made the request for the cost of “”headline policies” such as the removal of council tax have accused the SNP of spending hundreds of thousands of pounds to cynically delay disclosure until after the election, which the SNP won.
The Telegraph states that: “The SNP’s plan to replace council tax would have resulted in a shortfall of almost £800 million, meaning that its local income tax replacement would have had to be set 50 per cent higher than Mr Salmond planned. This would have meant a rate of 4.5p in the pound, rather than the 3p promised by the SNP. But the SNP leader went not once but twice to the Court of Session — at a cost of £100,000 to the taxpayer — to block this newspaper’s political editor, Simon Johnson, from revealing the truth before last May’s election
Margaret Thatcher and her ministers’ responses to the Hillsborough tragedy in which 96 people were crushed to death will be revealed next year under the FoIA.
The independent reports: “Confidential Government papers detailing former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s response to the Hillsborough disaster, and her Cabinet’s reactions to the tragedy, will be released by 30 June next year.
“Home Secretary Theresa May confirmed this in October, but in the absence of a deadline, anxiety among victims’ relatives remained.”
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.