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Posts Tagged ‘Scotland’

A day in FoIA: Rat meat sold to public, Prescott’s spending may be kept secret, PPI misselling, Scottish independence’s EU legal advice, Scotland home to more than 100 exotic animals

Cane rat meat ‘sold to public’ in Ridley Road Market

Cane rats and “shocking” quantities of illegal and “potentially unsafe” meat have been sold to the public in east London, a BBC London undercover investigation has found.

Secret filming in one of the capital’s busiest food markets has revealed butchers and food stores prepared to sell large quantities of meat that breaks food safety laws.

West African and environmental health officer sources told the BBC the Ridley Road Market, in Dalston, was a known hotbed of illicit meat activity, including sales of illegal “smokies”, a delicacy made by charring sheep or goat with a blow torch.

Yet a Freedom of Information request to Hackney Council reveals the last enforcement visits to premises concerning illegal meat in the whole borough took place in 2009.

Read more.

Guy Lynn | BBC | September 17th 2012

Details on who altered letter about Prescott’s spending may be kept secret

The government is threatening to block the disclosure of emails that reveal who removed key sections from a letter that exonerated Lord Prescott of false claims that he had used a government credit card for “cavalier” spending.

Despite a ruling from the information commissioner that the details be released this week, ministers may prevent the release of emails between the Cabinet Office and the Department for Communities and Local Government. Ministers are contemplating a defence under section 36 of the Freedom of Information Act that release of the emails may prejudice the “effective conduct of public affairs” or “collective cabinet responsibility”.

The emails centre on unfounded claims by the Tory co-chairman Grant Shapps, who was then a housing minister, that the former deputy prime minister’s “private office” had spent £2,000 on Whitehall credit cards, supposedly including a trip to an Australian casino. In fact the spending was entirely legitimate. The only untoward items were due to the government-issued credit card having been cloned.

Read more.

Randeep Ramesh | The Guardian | September 16th 2012

FoI reveals lack of accountability over PPI misselling

The FSA has not brought any enforcement cases against individuals for the misselling of payment protection insurance in the last three years and says it has no plans to do so.

London-based IFA Wexdon Financial Services submitted a Freedom of Information request to the regulator to find out whether individuals have been held to account over the recent PPI misselling scandal which could cost the industry around £10bn in compensation.

Read more.

Natalie Holt | Money Marketing | September 17th 2012

Scottish independence: Court hearing over government’s EU legal advice

A court hearing will take place this week over the Scottish government refusal to reveal advice on the status of an independent Scotland in Europe.

Scotland’s Information Commissioner Rosemary Agnew has asked the Court of Session for an urgent hearing.

Under Freedom of Information laws, she wants the government to say whether it has received any legal advice.

However, First Minister Alex Salmond said to reveal the information would be breaking the ministerial code.

Read more.

BBC | September 17th 2012

The North-East of Scotland is now home to more than 100 exotic animals

DEADLY snakes, wild cats and herds of bison are now calling Scotland their home.

More than 100 of the world’s more exotic creatures are being kept under the Dangerous Wild Animals Act in North-East Scotland, a freedom of information request has revealed.

A western diamond back rattlesnake, which has a deadly venomous bite, lives in one Aberdeen city centre flat.

Read more.

Deadline News | September 17th 2012

FoIA reveals smokers and fat patients are denied NHS operations

The NHS has been accused of trying to save money by denying treatment for smokers and obese patients, the Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph report.

Freedom of Information requests obtained from 91 Primary Care Trusts in England by Pulse, a magazine for GPs, showed that 25 had brought in new restrictions on treating obese patients or smokers since last April.

Statistics show that people are being denied IVF treatment, breast reductions and fat–reduction operations based on their weight and whether they smoke.

Dr Clare Gerada, the head of the Royal College of GPs, said some of the restrictions, particularly for IVF, were “dreadful”. She added: “It’s becoming the deserving and the undeserving. I think it’s discriminatory and I find it astonishing.

“The Government should determine what should be applied universally.”

In case of one trust, NHS Bedfordshire, anyone with a body mass index above 35 deemed to be severely obese is barred from having hip or knee surgery. This is equivalent to a 5ft 5in woman weighing 15 stone or a 6ft man weighing 18 and a half stone.

Steve Nowottny, the deputy editor of Pulse, said: “In some cases there may be genuine clinical justification for rationing treatment on these grounds. But there is a growing suspicion that some PCTs are now blocking access to surgery for smokers and the obese simply to help achieve ever greater efficiency savings.”

However, managers at Health Service trusts insisted that such restrictions are in people’s ‘best interests’.

Scottish councils are “profiteering” at the expense of retailers, The Scottish Grocers’ Federation say

Scotland’s convenience stores are each down an average of £4000 because of liquor licensing regulations introduced two years ago, fueling allegations local authorities are “profiteering” at the expense of retailers,  the Herald Scotland reports.

According to figures released under the Freedom of Information legislation,  11 out of 27 Scottish councils have made money running into hundreds of thousands of pounds from the new licensing regime since 2009, despite the statutory requirement for it to be cost-neutral.

The Scottish Grocers’ Federation (SGF),  said the figures showed retailers paid “hand over fist for a system so lacking in transparency, accountability, consistency and proportionality”.

“These figures show licence holders are paying over the odds for a system which is cumbersome and which is lining the pockets of some local authorities” SGF chief executive John Drummond said.

SNP ‘failed to comply’ with the law, the Information Commissioner said

The Scottish information commissioner has ruled that the Government of Scotland “failed to comply” with the law after ministers blocked a request for the release of documents showing communications between the SNP administration and the party’s biggest donor, Stagecoach owner Sir Brian Souter, the Scotsman reports.

The commissioner heavily criticised ministers for not releasing the correspondence involving Sir Brian, who was knighted last year, just months after he donated GBP500,000 to the SNP’s election war chest during last year’s election.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We have received the Scottish Information Commissioner’s decision and are considering its terms.”

NHS FoIA whistleblower invited to meet Scottish health secretary

As Request Initiative blogged last week, one of NHS Ayrshire and Arran’s nurses recently exposed severe malpractice in his own hospital via a Freedom of Information request.

Nurse Rab Wilson gained access to reports on incidents, which, according to the BBC,  “involved three missed chances to diagnose cancers, the death of a patient who was trapped in a faulty lift, a death which followed inadequate treatment of a leg wound, and two cases where psychiatric patients murdered or attempted to murder a relative”.

The Herald have now reported that Wilson has been invited to meet Scottish Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon. The paper states: “Rab Wilson will tell Ms Sturgeon that although the chief executive and board chairman have been replaced, other heads must roll for the way reports into more than 50 serious incidents, many leading to deaths, were hushed up”.

The Liberal Democrats have criticised Sturgeon for only demanding an inquiry into the affair now, after Rab Wilson’s 5 year struggle to force the release of information culminated in last week’s decision notice by the Information Commissioner, who described it as one the worst breaches of FoIA law he had ever dealt with.

Millions of tram travellers cut from forecasts

The Herald Scotland have reported that the Edinburgh tram system is expected- in secret forecasts released under the Freedom of Information Act- to see its total users reduce from nearly 12 million to 5.4 million. This follows the trams’ route being cut in order to save money.

“The figures, disclosed to The Herald following a Freedom of Information request that was ultimately referred to Scotland’s Information Commissioner, illustrate the long-term difficulties created by cutting off developments east of the city centre that the trams were to serve

“Even after nine years of operation, the curtailed service is expected to attract fewer than 10 million passengers, while the full route, known as 1a, would have attracted about twice that number”.

The new ‘airport-to-St Andrew Square’ route is due to lose £5 million in the first year, a £700,000 reduction on the initial cost prior to the cut.  But, the Herald adds, “However, after nine years, the annual profits of the shorter route are significantly lower, at £1.4m – just over one- third of the £4.1m predicted for the full route”.

Benefits families could pay off £1m mortgage

Figures received after a FoIA request by the Daily Telegraph to the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) have raised questions over the government’s benefits cap.

In response to the FOI request, the DWP have revealed that 130 families have gained over  “£1,000 a week, including 80 who receive at least £1,100 a week”. Although the majority of Britain’s near five million claimants receive less than £100 a week, the DWP’s release also brings to light that around 30 families are receiving “£1,500 a week – three times what they would be earning on a national average wage – to pay their rent while another 60 are receiving up to £5,000 a month”.

In response, a DWP spokesman has said, “these figures underline exactly why our Housing Benefit reforms are so necessary”.

Scottish spin doctor’s bid to silence truth about referendum

Alex Salmond’s spin doctor was exposed last night for having attempted to stop an expert on referendums communicating to journalists that a two-question referendum plan was “not tenable”.

The Times, The Daily Telegraph and The Scotsman report that spin-doctor Kevin Pringle urged Matt Qvortrup, a political scientist at Cranfield University, to retract his comments to The Times and write a letter saying he had not been reported accurately.

Dr Qvortrup had stated that the First Minister’s favoured scheme for the referendum ballot paper, where there would be one question on independence and another on Scotland acquiring full financial powers while staying within the Union, couldn’t be achieved.

Six emails released under the Freedom of Information Act revealed that the spin doctor had told Dr Qvortrup: “I will say that you contacted me and sent me a copy [of the letter to The Times], because we have spoken about such matters in the past. I would advise you not to take press calls, but to let this speak for itself.”

Scottish Labour who submitted the FoIA requests said the “big question” was whether the cover-up was orchestrated by the First Minister of Mr Pringle.

A third of poor countries’ debt to the UK is interest

A Freedom on Information request to UK Export Finance has revealed that a third of the debt owed to the UK by some of the world’s poorest countries consists of interest on the original loans, a figure debt campaigners condemn as “ridiculously high”, The Guardian reports.

MPs’ unreasonable food complaints

The Daily Mail published today the details of the ‘suggestions’ box from the House of Commons restaurants, revealing some MPs’ unreasonable demands. The “pedantic moans” included eggs being too ‘watery’, vending machine crisp packets being 10 grams too light and the beer being too expensive at £2.60 a pint.

Climate scientists support Request Initiative’s appeal for GWPF to reveal funders

The Guardian’s Leo Hickman reports today on next Friday’s Information Rights Tribunal when Request Initiative will appeal for the Global Warming Policy Foundation to reveal the identity its seed funder.

The newspaper says leading climate scientists are backing the appeal, arguing that GWPF “routinely misrepresents and casts doubt on the work of climate scientists”.

The London-based climate sceptic thinktank chaired by the former Conservative chancellor Lord Lawson is fighting an FoIA request by Request Initiative to the Charity Commission asking for a bank statement it holds revealing the name of GWPF’s seed donor, who contributed £50,000 for its launch in 2009.

Request’s director, Brendan Montague, submitted an FoIA request to the Charity Commission arguing that the public has a right to know if any donor is related in any way to the oil industry.

GWPF has stated in the past that it does not accept donations from the energy industry, or anyone with a “significant interest” in the energy industry.

James Hansen, the director of the Nasa Goddard Institute for Space Studies who first warned the world about the dangers of climate change in the 1980s has also backed Request Initiative’s appeal, telling the Guardian: “If successful, the FOI request may, by exposing one link in a devious manipulation of public opinion, start a process that allows the public to be aware of what is happening, what is at stake, and where the public interest lies.”

MoD wasted £22m on barely used vehicles

A Freedom of Information investigation has revealed the Ministry of Defence has spent £22m on revamping 100 Snatch Land Rovers for Afghanistan, that have barely been used, The Daily Telegraph reports.

Scotland’s colleges running out of bursary funds

The Herald reports that colleges in Scotland are running out of support funds for students, even before cuts of £11 million get implemented. A Freedom of Information request to 40 colleges by NUS Scotland revealed that out of the 28 that answered, 14 have overspent their funds for bursaries last year, with a another eight exhausting their budget.

 

Scotland’s ICO envisions FoIA future

Kevin Dunion, Scotland’s soon-to-depart Information Commissioner, has suggested that the FoIA be ammended in a number of ways to ensure it continues to be a useful piece of legislation.

The Times, The Herald, The Sun, The Telegraph and The Scotsman all report that Mr Dunion’s report Informing The Future is criticising the government’s lack of commitment to its original plans.

He told MSPs today that the Freedom of Information Act needs to be extended to make more public bodies open to scrutiny. “The MSPs promised, when the act was coming into effect, that it would be extended to cover more organisations, and 10 years on we are still waiting for that. I just want to remind them of that,” he said.

The Herald reported that he also suggested the next Information Commissioner should have extra powers, including the ability to demand evidence under oath, to prevent public bodies right up to the Scottish Government backsliding on their obligations.

Mr Dunion warned that transparency in Scotland would be undermined if FoIA was not applicable to private companies who are sub-contracted by public bodies to carry out public sector work.

His other suggestions include an extension of the timescale for the prosecution of those destroying evidence and resistance to the imposition of charges.

Mr Dunion will appear today before Holyrood’s Justice Committee to discuss his final report on the Freedom of Information.

McDonalds among the private bodies who might become subject to FoIA

Over 150 private bodies awarding qualifications including McDonald’s may become subject to Freedom of Information requests, BBC’s Martin Rosenbaum reports. If that happens, requests should only relate to their role as awarders of qualifications and wouldn’t extend to other areas.

The journalist also reports the Upper Tribunal is examining today Fish Legal’s appeal in a case involving three private water companies, Southern Water, Yorkshire Water and United Utilities. All companies claim they’re not covered by the Environmental Information Regulations as the campaign group claims.

Met chief met with NoTW while Milly Dowler was missing

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.”

SNP slammed for Edinburgh tram project secrecy

The SNP has been criticised for its decision to heavily censor 17 documents released under the Freedom of Information legislation relating to the Edinburgh tram project.

The transport scheme was supposed to receive government support, but John Swinney, the SNP Finance Minister decided to “scale back” direct involvement in the scheme as soon as he took office in May 2007.

Swinney’s then decided to restore government support to the project last summer but by that time the budget had doubled to more than £1billion.

The redacted information disclosed under FoIA was labelled “unacceptable” by Scottish Labour and they have called for a public inquiry into the matter, with the ultimate goal of unveiling all the information.

The Telegraph reports that earlier this month, the Edinburgh City Council and Tie, the arms-length publicly funded company set up to deliver the project, responded to a similar FoIA request by claiming they no longer held the information.

They later own contravened their own statement, by admitting they did have the documents but couldn’t hand them over since it would cost too much.

Transport Scotland’s John Ramsay had told Labour there was no public interest in the information requested and the blacked-out information related to the formation of government policy but last night he admitted the redacted material did not concern the trams after all.

NHS orders GPs to avoid prescribing vital drugs

The Daily Mail reports more than a quarter of primary care trusts are urging GPs to avoid prescribing treatments for serious illnesses like cancer, because they’re deemed expensive. The revelation follows a Freedom of Information investigation conducted by the GP newspaper.

Cameron sends out thousands of Christmas cards each year

David Cameron has to write thousands of Christmas cards each year, a Freedom of Information investigation by The Guardian revealed. The Telegraph reports that last year the Prime Minister send out 1,410 cards to colleagues, friends and world leaders. Barack Obama, Nicolas Sarkozy, Angela Merkel and Hamid Karzai were among last year’s recipients.

Ian Brady’s secure hospital home to extremely violent patients

Moors murderer Ian Brady is spending his days with patients that abuse and attack Ashworth Hospital’s staff at least once a day, The Daily Mirror reports.

Figures released under the Freedom of Information Act reveal that since 2007, there have been 566 assaults, 294 attempted assaults and 1,122 incidents of verbal abuse on workers at the secure hospital on Merseyside.

Brady himself, was interrogated by the police this year after claims he assaulted a 51-year-old nurse. The Crown Prosecution Service is currently investigating whether charges should be made.

The hospital that houses 500 patients in five secure wards, including 120 with psychopathic disorders has also seen a rise in patient-to-patient attacks. Of the 137 patients that have been attacked by other patients since 2007, two are suing claiming they weren’t protected enough.

Brady along with his ex-partner Myra Hindley is one of the most notorious UK serial killers. The couple tortured and murdered five children before burying them at Manchester’s Saddleworth Moor in the 1960s.

Hindley died aged 60 in 2002 and Brady is currently 73.

Scotland’s obesity related surgeries double

The Herald reports weight-loss surgery in Scotland’s NHS has increased by 52 per cent in just three years. A Freedom of Information investigation has showed a total of 309 bariatric surgeries have been performed last year, compared to 203 in 2007/2008.

Yorkshire councils spend thousands of pounds in Speaking Clock

FoIA requests logged by The Northern Echo revealed that amidst massive public sector cuts, local authorities in the North-East and North Yorkshire have paid more than £4,000 in the last two years to the BT’s Speaking Clock. Figures show the staff has in total checked the time 12,000 times.

Housing developers’ secret lobbying revealed

The UK’s biggest housebuilders have been lobbying cabinet ministers to introduce a planning clause that would boost their business prospects, The Guardian reports.

Documents revealed under the Freedom of Information Act, exposed the chiefs of housing firms, including Barratt, Bovis and Redrow, who put the pressure on ministers to introduce a planning policy that would mean the default answer to applications would be “yes”.

Ministers did indeed include the “presumption in favour of sustainable development” in the draft National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), which is due to come into force next spring, the Guardian’s Robert Booth says.

The newspaper reports that in June 2010, the Home Builders Federation (HBF) demanded the presumption in a letter that was read by Chancellor George Osborne, the communities secretary Eric Pickles, the business secretary Vince Cable and the ministers for housing and planning, Grant Shapps and Greg Clark.

The builders stressed that the letter was “private” and that they had no intention to “release it to the press”.

While the government says the planning reforms will drive economic growth and increase housing supply, conservationists claim the clause represents a green light for development at almost any cost.

Now the government faces criticism not just because of the fact that it let builders shape policy but also because three of the four people appointed to an advisory panel on the NPPF had links to the house construction.

Police forces invest thousands of pounds in PR

Data released under the Freedom of Information Act reveal that while police budgets are being slashed, ten police forces have invested an extra £400,000 on spin doctors and PR officers. The Daily Mirror reports the biggest increase in media spending came from the West Midlands Police that from £151,000 went on to spend £1,437,000.

One camera for every seven students in the most surveillance-intense UK School

The Sunday Times reports King’s Heath Boys’ maths and computing college in Birmingham is by far the school with the most cameras in the country. The comprehensive school has 86 cameras – one for every seven students – installed in classrooms and corridors, to combat burglaries and vandalism.

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